Dar es Salaam. In the US city of Vermont, a campaign was launched to raise funds in aid of the Iringa fire brigade in Tanzania!
The initiative was a culmination of a tour of students from Lamoille Union High School in Vermont to the Southern Highlands region only to discover that the region of more than 941,238 people had only 27 active firefighters with limited protective gears.
The students, together with their teacher, Brian Schwartz, discovered that the entire fire brigade had barely four full sets of fire gear, one pair of fire boots and no fire gloves.
The fundraising was based on the belief that this lack of equipment limited the brigade’s ability to train, respond and save lives.
Brian, a high school teacher and a volunteer in rural Vermont, initiated the campaign in November last year and has so far raised a $5,581 out of the targeted $11, 000.
He has also collected more than 150 full sets of fire gear and 35 air packs which he thinks is enough to outfit the Iringa region and the surrounding communities with full protective gear.
Brian’s initiative highlights the difficult situation the firefighting team across the country faces. Many are in a sorry state of affairs that they cannot boast of guaranteeing the safety of people and their properties.
Tanzania has witnessed the frequent fire outbreaks gutting dormitories, markets, shops and residential apartments that they are slowly becoming a common occurrence. Between 2017 and 2018 alone, a total of 1,529 fire incidents were reported to the Fire and Rescue Force up from only 725 incidents which were recorded between 2013 and 2014.
The Force associates the increase with its nationwide campaign of publicising its emergency telephone number, 114. “Before this campaign, most of the members of the public were not aware of the [emergency] number,” the Force’s commissioner-general Thobias Andengenye said in a statement to The Citizen.
Many have lost lives, others sustained permanent injuries and properties worth billions of shillings have been destroyed by fire incidents in the country.
According to Mr Angengenye, a total of 63 people lost their lives in the last five years to fire incidents.
There has also been consequential or indirect losses such as interruption to business, costs of temporary reorganisation and restoration costs caused by fire outbreaks which are often far higher than the direct fire damage.
Fire and Rescue Force has been roundly accused of delayed response in fire incidents which has contributed to fatalities and damages.
Whether it is the death of six children, five from the same family, who perished in two separate incidents after houses they were sleeping in were gutted by fire in Kagera in July 2018, the blazing of White Sands hotel in August 2018 which destroyed part of the seaside hotel or the broke out of fire at a two-storey building located at Kariakoo in Dar es Salaam’s Central Business District (CBD) on June 2018, the list is too long and enough to awake authorities.
“Three vehicles came to carry out rescue services, but they could not pump water effectively to the building,” an eye witness cried when the two-storey building was aflame at Kariakoo. It took fours for the fire brigade to put off the fire.
On August 29, 2018, an overnight inferno destroyed two dormitories used by girl students at Tabora-based Mihayo Secondary School, destroying clothes and other items belonging to students.
“We weren’t able to rescue any item,” lamented one student then. “We have remained with what was with us in classes.”
Fatal disregard of standards
On the night of Nelson Mandela Day, Monday, July 18, 2016, fire outbreak caused by an electric fault in one of the machines in the factory razed 21st Century Textiles Ltd in Morogoro Region.
More than 600 workers were summarily and indefinitely suspended as the company grappled with the loss estimated at Sh7 billion.
Regional Fire and Rescue Brigade Commander Ramadhan Pilipili said shortly after the incident that it took long to put out the fire because the factory did not meet standard fire and rescue requirements.
“The textile factory was supposed to have water taps on the roof to be used in case of a fire outbreak, but there were none. The taps [tend to be] opened to allow water to sprinkle.”
Negligent as it may seem, this is by no means an exceptional case. Numerous studies conducted in the area of fire and rescue have pointed out various and fatal discrepancies in the public buildings that subject them to fire outbreak.
Many building or place where many people enter like shopping malls lack fire safety instructions. Facilities and means to respond to fire hazards are also limited. Some are either not easily accessible or are not functioning at all – or inconsistent and inadequate provision of fire safety measures in the buildings.
There poor enforcement of fire safety standards and requirement in public building as stated in the Fire and Rescue Act.
Fifteen years since its establishment, the Fire and Rescue Force appears not to be up for the task. This is at least according to a 2017-audit report by the National Audit Office.
Covering the period of five financial years from 2011/12 to 2015/16 the audit focused on the installation of fire safety equipment, periodic inspection and monitoring of the fire brigades activities, to mention but a few.
Fire and Rescue Force on the spot
What was discovered was that Fire and Rescue Force has not adequately been enforcing fire safety requirement in public buildings.
The 53-page report showed numerous weaknesses in the inspections conducted in public buildings, monitoring of the fire brigades activities, the process of approval of building drawings, the follow-up on the implementation of issued inspection recommendations and issuance of sanctions to defaulters of fire safety requirements.
Mr Andengenye, however, rejects the conclusion that his department has failed to enforce the fire and rescue law. “[The Fire and Rescue] Act has been fully implemented,” he said in a statement. “But like any other law, there are some challenges in its implementation,” he said without mentioning the challenges.
The force instead says recklessness of the users in the respective buildings, electrical faults, and arson were to blame for fire outbreaks.
The bottom line in the inefficiency that faces the Force is the low funding from the government. This was the reason why Brian and his students organised a fundraising campaign.
The National Audit Office’s report pointed out that inadequate funding leads to a lack of enough personnel, insufficient quality of fire inspections and monitoring. In the period covered by the audit, that is, 2011-2016, the Fire and Rescue Force, for example, received only Sh88 billion.
Mr Andengenye admits this shortage of personnel, saying that there are not enough of them compared to the size of the country. The case is the same as far as the issue of equipment is concerned.
Andengenye assures the public
“[But] we are still trying to provide effective and efficient rescue services with the available personnel and equipment,” says Mr Andengenye assuredly.
He claims that the budget allocated to his office is enough even though the department does not have any other alternative sources of funding.
“The public should stay assured that we are efficient enough to ensure both their own and their properties’ safety,” he insists.