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Taking firefighting to communities: The place of volunteers during emergencies

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Dr. Ibrahim Alhaji Liman is Controller-General of Federal Fire Service. Photo/ANAMBRAUPDATE

Nigeria, just like many other countries, has had its fair share of fire outbreaks in recent years ranging from domestic fire accidents to arson and others. Therefore, the challenge of fire safety precautions and fire response time has remained an issue of great concern to stakeholders and the general public.

Volunteers are considered critical in any sector of the economy to reach the unreached, which organised or formal settings may not reach. For example, the United Nations does a lot of work across various communities globally, using volunteers. This is because it would be limited in carrying out those activities if it were to solely depend on its staff strength.

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The same applies to many other organisations, including the fire service, which encourages individuals to freely and willingly contribute their time and labour in a specific area in support of a cause that benefits the general public. But the volunteers, in this case, must be residents of their communities. Therefore, they are able to intervene in cases of fire emergencies within their communities.

The major role expected to play by community firefighters is to assist people within or outside their communities. They assist people in distress, rescue fire victims, flood or drowning victims and extinguish fires as quickly as possible, hence saving other huge losses that could be incurred.

They play important roles in this regard because some of the factors that could determine the extent of damage caused by fire during any outbreak include the immediacy of emergency intervention and the manner of intervention. So, the timely intervention of the volunteer fighter is a game-changer, before the intervention of the firemen, where possible.

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A good example of volunteer intervention during fire outbreaks was recently witnessed in the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), Abuja, when a popular Supermarket, Ebeano was razed down by the fire. The incident saw a joint effort by fire agencies and volunteers, who took two days to put out the fire.

Some of the volunteers that battle to put out the over 48 hours fire at the supermarket includes the guard’s brigade, Julius Berger and other well-meaning individuals, in addition to a team of firemen, the federal fire service, and the FCT fire service.

The Controller-General (CG) of the Federal Fire Service (FFS), Dr. Liman Ibrahim, has recently announced that the agency would set up teams of volunteer firefighters in communities across the states to provide support to the communities during emergencies before the arrival of firemen, who may not be close to the community and may therefore take longer time to respond.

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He explained that the presence of volunteer firefighters in any community means that loss of life or property to fire accidents within communities can be drastically reduced, otherwise, there may be nothing to salvage by the time firemen travel long distances to the affected location.

The CG said: “We discovered that majority of the public do not understand the difficulty the fire service is facing in terms of response because their belief is that once there is fire, you should just appear. We are not spirits. That is why we encourage people to know the nearest fire station to where they reside. They should also know the fire station’s telephone number. Without doing what is required of them to elicit a quick response from our team, they start stoning our people when we come.

“It is because of these incidences that we agreed during our last council conference in Jos that we are going to establish volunteer firefighters. A volunteer is normally given some form of training in the areas of intervention. And in the case of the fire service, which is also considering the use of volunteers residing within communities, especially the grassroots, they would be taught the rudiments of firefighting.”

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In this regard, Liman said the firefighter volunteer would be trained as a firefighter. According to him, they are based in the communities, so they will enlighten their communities and intervene before the firefighters arrive.

He said: “These people, (firefighter volunteers), will be seen doing something, either rescuing life, or trying to control the fire not to escalate. And they will be the ones to put a call across to the nearest fire station for a more sophisticated response. So, these volunteers will be trained as firefighters and they will be given their identity cards.

According to the authorities, the years 2020 and 2021 have recorded a high number of fire outbreaks, many of which occurred in communities across various states. This, he said, further stresses the need for Nigerians to support the agency and volunteers in fighting and reducing the damaging impact of fire outbreaks in communities.

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According to him, the firefighter volunteers will not only provide emergency response awaiting the arrival of fully trained firefighters, they readily educate their communities on some basic fire safety and precaution. Such precautions include not overloading their electrical sockets to avoid fire accidents, using qualified professionals during the wiring of houses, avoid stockpiling fuel in homes, and the importance of having a fire extinguisher in the home.

“When you build your house and you want to do wiring, get a qualified electrician, don’t say you are trying to manage your money by getting someone who is not a professional. He will either buy substandard cables for you or do the wrong connection and in the end, there will be a problem. So get a good electrician who is a professional to do wirings for you,” Liman advised.

The role of volunteers in communities can include a wide range of individuals in the community, from senior secondary school students to graduates and other adults in the community, all working together to safeguard their community from fire accidents.

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The presence of such volunteers in every community will also go a long way in boosting the effort to reduce growing fire incidences and emergencies across the states. And it is likely to make Nigerians at all levels more fire conscious and aware of basic fire preventive steps, thereby reducing the likelihood of domestic fire outbreaks as a result of ignorance.

Another positive impact of volunteer firefighting, as observed by commentators, is that it can serve as a career guide to young people. It can spur the interest of young people in discovering their passions and could guide many in taking up a career in firefighting. It will be an avenue to reduce youth restiveness because it keeps them engaged and provides a sense of duty and responsibility on them, thereby preventing many from engaging in vices.

The service also noted that the presence of such volunteers in any community is very strategic and important to the maintenance of internal security. According to the CG, it helps also in safeguarding lives and properties. “Therefore, while plans are being made to select and train volunteer firefighters, the public has a role to play by giving the government full support in this regard.

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