By OKWUDIRI OHAA
Up until May 29, 2015, the Enugu State Fire Service was in a cul-de-sac. Victims of fire disasters were left to grope for assistance that never came. The only succour, when fire struck, came from neighbours and sympathisers whose efforts were usually insufficient. This inefficiency led to huge losses of lives and property.
The Service then had only one water tanker, and 10 fire trucks out of which only one was functional. Similarly, the Service did not have safety kits for over 20 years, while its hazard allowance was pegged at N2.
There were only three fire stations in the state — located at Idaw River in Enugu South LGA, Ogui Road in Enugu North LGA, and the University Road at Nsukka – all built in 1962.
Such was the scenario before May 2015. Today, the Service has been repositioned more than ever before, courtesy of a total commitment of Enugu State governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. To ensure maximum efficiency, the Ugwuanyi administration embarked on construction of five more fire stations located at Ogrute in Igboeze North LGA, Orba in Udenu LGA, Oji River and 9th Mile as well as at Four Corner in Nkanu West LGA. The state’s 2019 budget also made provisions for the construction of more fire stations at Uzo-Uwani LGA, and at Okpanku in Aninri LGA. The dream of this administration is to have a fire station in each LGA of the state.
Governor Ugwuanyi, upon assumption of office, released enough funds to the Service to repair its broken-down vehicles and purchase fire-fighting chemicals. Drivers were also recruited. To ensure more efficiency in the Service, the State Executive Council also approved five customised and rugged fire trucks to enable the Service to strategically respond to emergencies. The mini fire trucks, constructed by Innoson Motors, can navigate remote areas.
For safety, Gov Ugwuanyi made it possible for the Service to acquire four breathing apparatuses and safety wears as well as increased its hazard allowance from a paltry N2 to N2, 000 and later to N5, 000, thus making Enugu the highest hazard-allowance paying state in the country only at par with Lagos. The state has also been footing the bills of any worker that receives injuries on duty.
One other area the Ugwuanyi administration has performed wonders is in capacity building and staffing. The Service, in collaboration with the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, has trained its drivers on the latest trends in driving. The state government also approved training of fire personnel at the Fire Service College, London. To enable the newly-built and fully-equipped stations to function effectively, the Ugwuanyi administration approved the recruitment of 52 additional staff members for the Service.
Men and officers of the state Fire Service have also had their morale boosted with the recent career advancement approved for them by the state government. Hitherto, some personnel were stagnated in one position for over nine years. The shackle is now broken, with 23 of them advancing to the superintendent cadre, and two to officer cadre. Worthy of note also is that it is only in this administration that the Service began to access over 85% of its annual budget as well as have its overhead increased from N200, 000 to N500, 000 per month.
The efficiency of the State Fire Service has been acknowledged by reputable authorities. In April last year, the Enugu State Executive Council rewarded each staff member of the Service with N20, 000. The same State Exco gave two awards to the Service for its prompt responses to emergencies as well as a cash reward of N3m in March 2018.
Spurred by these gestures, the agency has been discharging its duties diligently. With its emergency phone numbers, it takes just few minutes for the Service to respond to fire incidents across the state. The Service has also been creating fire safety awareness, organising workshops for students and teachers, hotels, and stakeholders in collaboration with the Fire Management Institute, Lagos. The goal of the Service in the next four years is to make Enugu State Fire Service optimally proactive and globally recognised.
Ohaa is the chief fire officer, Enugu State.