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Emergency Situations: How Prepared Are Nigerians, Safety Agencies?

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Ex-chairman Abuja Municipal Council, Mrs Vivian Anazodo standing in the parlour of her burnt house in Abuja

In everyday activities, Nigerians are confronted with emergency situations like inferno, building collapse, road accident and others.

The questions are: how prepared are Nigerians and safety agencies? Events across the country for years have shown that except for few states like Lagos, Rivers, Enugu and others, not many states have functional safety and emergency agencies like Fire Service Stations, Emergency Response Team, Traffic agency and others.

Even where such agencies are ready and functional, it is either majority of the people don’t care to have their contacts or even if they have it and reach out to them in emergency situations, they will or will not respond quickly.

Sometimes, when the agencies try to respond, lack of access road and other environmental or logistic challenges impede them.

These developments have led to colossal loss of lives and property during emergency situations across the country, thereby raising question on when will the situation improves for better.

My House Got Burnt Because Of My Failure
To Have Fire Service Number, Says Ex-Abuja
Municipal Council Chairman

From Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze Abuja 

July 4, 2018 was a day the former chairman of the Abuja Municipal Area Council, Mrs Vivian Anazodo will not forget in a hurry. This is due to the inferno that razed down her house.

The six-bedroom bungalow located in Garki Area of Abuja is less than five minutes drive from the Federal Fire Service headquarters, but despite its proximity no valuable was saved except her international passport, vital documents and certificates belonging to her children.

The fire which started around 6.00p.m. was contained at about 2.00a.m. the next day and the incident occurred three days after she returned from overseas.

Anazodo said she has been away for over seven months, having gone UK to study Law at the University of Westminister.

Despite the huge loss she suffered, the former AMAC boss said she want Nigerians to take precautionary measures to safeguard their homes. 

According to her,  “Nigerians should have the essential numbers of emergency and safety agencies so that they will not suffer the way I suffered.

My failure to have the Fire Service Control Room number was what ruined me.
 
“If I had had the number of Fire Service, I would have called them early enough. My mind did not go there at all.

If I have done so, that two hours would have been a saving grace.

Had it been that this fire started in the night, I would have been roasted alive because the security gadgets in the house were so much, I have two escapes though.

Recounting her ordeal on that faithful day, Anazodo said: “The incident occurred on a Wednesday, around 4pm, I went to Dei Dei and I came back to have my lunch.

Meanwhile, I have been away for seven months and I said: ‘I need to do general services.’ I started with the air conditioner system.

“They came and serviced it, then I called the generator man, he serviced the generator. I called the washing machine man.

When he had already finished servicing the one in the children’s side, he entered my room to service the bigger one there and as he was just doing it, he said he was thirsty and because it was my bedroom I needed to stay there and watch him work.

“I said ok, there’s no water in the fridge but the kitchen is okay let me go to the kitchen and get you water.

It was when I came down as I got to the kitchen I saw the smoke from the ceiling. I called the electrician he said he lives in Kuje, but that he is coming.

I went to the kitchen got the water the smoke was still coming out, we continued working and after about 30 minutes I started perceiving the odour, by the time I came down after 30 minutes the whole parlour and the passage were filled with smoke so I now started shouting and neighbours came around 6pm, just came and we said ok let’s break the ceiling because it’s glass ceiling.

We started breaking to see where the smoke was coming from.

It was not from the ceiling but later found that it was from the store, where I packed plastic chairs.”

According to her,  “It was when we now opened that small store, where I packed about forty long coolers, rubber and seats.

So when it entered the plastic, it was like fuel and it couldn’t be controlled anymore. Then we ran out and started screaming and shouting then people now came.

“In the midst of confusion, I was shouting then people had not gathered, I was shouting who has fire service number and my personal assistant was coming from the hotel. You see when devil wants to work he will definitely work.

My aide was coming from the hotel and from the hotel you will definitely pass AMAC fire service, yet it did not occur to me to say enter fire service to bring them.”

He came and we were all here shouting until one man came after an hour and 30 minutes the man said ‘oh I have fire service number.

I have! I have it!’ And then called fire service and within an hour they came.  

They came in three trucks, when the fire had already gone far and the three trucks finished, they said they had to go and refill.

Within an hour and two, they came back and they started looking for help, they called Utako, Garki.  

I think about four areas came to join hand because it was already trying to enter my hotel and the other compound and they fought till about 2am and couldn’t contain the fire. It was around 2am they said the fire has been contained.

Then, they told me to come in to see what I can salvage… and I entered that area where my documents are, they were all intact.

“So I picked my passport, but my jewelries were all burnt, imagine a woman’s jewelries for 20 years, all burnt, which I have had for over twenty years.

So, currently I am homeless. I don’t have any cloth, my books are all gone, except what is in my brain….
 
Mrs Anazodo has a piece of advice for Nigerians: “If you want to put your burglary proofs, put it in a way that from inside you can unlock it and come outside.

Also, every house should have an escape route in case of emergency. Every window protector should not be permanently fixed.”

She appreciated the efforts of the Fire Service and said: “I want to say that I am proud of the Fire Service men that came from Area 10.
They did so well.

“From the ferocity of the fire I saw that night, if not for them, may be the whole street and especially the hotel adjoining my house would have been completely burnt down but with their intervention, only my own house was burnt.

They did their job professionally without even knowing the identity of the owner.”

Majority Of Tanker Drivers Are Less Than 25 Years Old, LASEMA Boss

General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Adesina Tiamiyu spoke on the recent Otedola Bridge Tanker explosion, what people can do to keep safe in times of emergency and how a good number of heavy duty truck drivers are underage or inexperienced

By Tobi Awodipe

What was the exact cause of the recent tanker explosion on the Otedola Bridge in Lagos?

If we go by the video that went viral on the internet, you will notice that there was a stark lack of maintenance.

Secondly, you will see carelessness and recklessness.

For us, looking at the video, it was obvious that the vehicle in question was not strong enough to carry the weight of load in the tank.

Why would a vehicle suddenly stop and rather than move forward, it starts rolling back. I said carelessness because the break obviously was not well maintained because the vehicle was rolling back and the break couldn’t hold it and they resorted to throwing wedges.

I said carelessness because when it happened, there is a way to brush a vehicle against a standing object to force it to a stop, but he didn’t do that and so the vehicle jackknifed, tumbled and spilled its contents.

Unfortunately, there were several vehicles on the road at the same time being peak period, with hot engines and so it was easy for the multiple explosions to take place and the fire to spread quite rapidly.

You mentioned carelessness and lack of maintenance; what is your agency doing to ensure that these heavy duty vehicles comply with basic road and safety rules as these kind of incidences have become one too many?

In all our public enlightenment campaigns, we have always advised Nigerians, particularly Lagosians that we all have to take care of our vehicles, articulated vehicles or not.

We are in the rainy season now, how are we maintaining our wipers, lights, horn, brake system and so on. All these are important because at any point in time, the need for them will arise.

LASEMA as an agency is not a law enforcement agency; we monitor likely events that might lead to emergency and try to stop it before it happens. We have motorbikes that go round the town and report back to us on likely dangers but we don’t even publicise these.

Just not too long ago, there was another tanker dripping fuel and we stopped it at tollgate and we assisted in locking the valve.

We couldn’t arrest the tanker and keep it anywhere because that will pose a danger to the people there.

The only silver lining in this Otedola incidence is that it has brought about the re-activation of many control measures that were in place that some agencies were not enforcing. Everyone is now awake to its responsibilities.

However, the most important people I will address are the unions involved in the haulage business; the union of road transport workers (NURTW), National Tanker Owners Association (NTOA), NUPENG, Depot Owners and the Ports Management.

Why will you put a container on a truck that has no proper latch?

You should be courageous enough to refuse to load that kind of truck, it starts from the depot owner who puts fuel in the tank and discovers it is leaking and still go ahead to load it.

According to our findings, we discovered that in leaking tankers, they usually put water first at the bottom before putting fuel and so when you stop them, they will say it is water that is dripping and not fuel, even asking you to touch it.

This should not happen, repair your tankers before the next lifting.

Almost daily, I get calls/texts about leaking tankers and we all need to be proactive by reporting these tankers to the nearest security agency.

We are going to have stakeholders’ meeting soonest of all security agencies to determine decisive actions that would be taken against dripping tankers and heavy duty vehicles that refuse to comply with basic safety rules and regulations.

The other teams that were coming to give us support were held back by the traffic logjam and we had to resort to driving one way to reach there.

What is your agency doing to enlighten Nigerians on what to do in terms of emergency situations?

We cannot do it alone and we need the help of journalists to spread the message.

At every enlightenment programme, we tell people to try and observe clear signs of danger in any emergency. When you notice these signs what should you do?

First and foremost, call the emergency line 112 or 767. Even if it is something you think you can handle, call the emergency numbers.

Sometimes, some domestic fires start very small and people think they can handle it but before you know it, it snowballs and consumes whole buildings.

Call for help first, it is free; we are not going to charge you for calling us. After calling for help, it is important to be safe, as you are not trained to respond to major incidences.

Give a clear gap between the incidence point and your location so that if there are explosions, you will not be caught up in it. Most times, when an incidence occurs, the one that kills is the secondary incidence.

Looking at the Otedola incidence, all the cars there had some fuel in them meaning that at some degree of heat, it would explode and if you are near it, oblivious of the danger because you want to record, you will be in the clear path of danger.

At every incidence scene, there are several danger points you will not be aware of and if you are not trained, clear the way for those that can handle the situation. Give emergency workers right of way, by so doing, you are improving the situation.

I can’t believe we have to say this but if you continue to ‘drag’ road with them, follow them as they are going and you clog the road, you are simply worsening the situation.

Also, an emergency scene is not a tourist attraction or a place you go to look, there are many dangers associated with this. Allow emergency workers do their job.

If we need your help, we will ask for it. If you keep coming close to the scene and expose yourself to danger, there is little we can do about that.

Even as trained, emergency workers, we are thinking of our own safety first and how to protect ourselves and do not need the extra burden of protecting bystanders while trying to deal with an emergency.

We want to appeal to everyone, stop videoing incidence scenes, stop trying to be the first to put it on social media.

There is no medal attached to posting accidents on social media, you are only inflicting pain on the families of the affected victims as anytime they see such videos or such videos are unknowingly sent to them, it will bring bad memories.

Why would you want to snap pictures of burnt bodies and keep on your phone?

Emergency workers are life savers, give us our space, don’t drag road with us, allow free passage, when you hear sirens of emergency vehicles, give them way to get help to those that need it on time.

Recently, there was a truck incidence on Ojuelegba Bridge. Why are heavy-duty vehicles still allowed to pass the bridge despite repeated incidences?

There is a limit to what LASEMA can do, as there are other agencies responsible for some of these things.

I was told that there should be a barrier on that bridge; hopefully the people in charge will do that now.

If these trucks are to pass below the bridge, there must be free flow of traffic so we don’t create bottlenecks.

Proper bus stops should be created, off the road, where buses can load and drop passengers so that others can pass through.

I also want to advise Lagosians, these trucks and articulated vehicles are not like your regular vehicles and are not driven normally, give them right of way, let them go.

According to our investigations, some of them are not well trained to handle heavy-duty trucks.

We have seen truck drivers, less than 25 years old, driving these big vehicles, what experience do they have? We have some cases of motor boys that never went to driving school for one day driving heavy-duty trucks for the main driver, this is not good.

As you don’t know which kind of driver is behind the wheels of that truck, be careful near them; give them a huge gap so you can change lanes in case of anything. Every agency has to put hands on deck if we are to forestall this kind of incidences.

What are some safety measures will you advise Nigerians to adhere to?

Give clear gap when driving beside articulated trucks.

Also, when you see one that looks to be distressed, before bringing out your phone to video, alert the relevant authorities to the danger so that response and help can come as quickly as possible.

Enugu Govt Prepares For Emergency
Situations, Builds Additional Fire Service Stations, Trains Personnel

From Lawrence Njoku (Enugu)

Enugu has not experienced any major disaster either as a result of building collapse, outbreak of fire from petroleum tanker or other emergencies, except the Enugu Timber market fire disaster that occurred some months back.

It was perhaps, the level of destruction that arose from that single disaster that took place in the wee hours of the night that spurred the state government into building infrastructure to contain such mishaps in the future.

The state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who vowed that such incident with the wanton destruction of goods would not repeat anywhere in the state had moved into action with the refurbishment of the state fire service to provide all round services in the state.

As a way of making their operations readily available to the people, the governor approved the award of contracts for construction of additional Fire Service stations in various areas of the state including Awgu, Oji River, Ninth Mile and Nsukka.

Ugwuanyi had said that it was sad that “with the volume of business that go on in Nsukka, there was only one fire station,” stressing however that with an additional service station in Ogurute, it will reduce losses suffered by residents during emergency situations.

The government did not stop there. It moved to mandate the Ministry of Capital Territory Development Authority to ensure that building coming up in the state complied with specifications, while at the same time, pull down structures that did not meet with specifications.

In this regard, setting up buildings in the state now must undergo several approvals of the Ministry and supervision to ensure they did
not breach rules.

The development has reduced frequent building collapse that was the hallmark in previous administrations of the state.

This is also applicable to buildings set up along water channels that are constantly monitored and removed, as soon as it is ascertained to have gained illegal approval.

The removal of such buildings has enhanced free flow of water anytime there was rainfall in the state among others.

An official of the Fire Agency confirmed the readiness of the fire outlet to contain any fire outbreak in the state.

“We have embarked on regular trainings, we have been provided with adequate infrastructure that can match any fire outbreak.

The state government has provided us with dedicated numbers and these numbers are available for residents to call at any time they wished.

Our operations have greatly improved and that is why, we easily respond to calls,” he said.

Mr Cyril Ugwu, a Manager in one of the petrol stations in the state, said they no longer allow vehicles into their stations anytime tankers were discharging products.

“We have also made sure that there are no objects that could ignite around our station at any point.

So, apart from providing fire extinguishers, we have provided other safety nets which were procured with the assistance of fire experts in the state.

So for us, we are very much prepared for fire and other emergencies,” he added.

‘Our Attitude To Safety Should
Be Proactive, Not Reactive”

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
SAFETY Expert and Executive Director –Strategy, Safety Advocacy and Empowerment Foundation (SAEF) Mr. Jamiu Badmos said that in Nigeria, what most of us do is that when there is an accident, we take our phones and record because we want to be the first to show pictures on social media, that has caused a lot of havoc than good to us.

“However, whenever fire happens, it is beyond the destruction of lives and property, there are also environmental pollution, people inhale them and can have a long-term effect.

“I will advice Nigerians to move away from accident scenes and do not stop emergency responders from doing their work, which was the case at the Otedola bridge accident.

But then, I appreciate the effort of the Lagos State response team; if this had happened in another state, it would have been worse; Lagos was able to manage the situation and post incident, including getting autopsy.”

Badmos emphasised three aspects: engineering, education and enforcement.

“A tanker must have left a particular place, what are the safety measures put in place to ensure that the vehicle is in a good state?

What is the state of the driver? Was he drunk or hasn’t he rest well enough from previous trips?

“In the case of the Otedola tanker, the vehicle was rolling backwards, this could have been traced from where it is coming out.

Do they have a journey management system in place to check their vehicles? How often does the company do preventive maintenance?

If these have been checked, you can say that a good vehicle and a good driver can leave the port.”

He added that FRSC has the power on everything on the road, including tankers and drivers, but not stopping them is what he is not aware of.

“The act is very clear on this. But beyond stopping them, they should start introducing the use of vitaliser to check their level of alcohol or drug influence.

All those under bridges where you have people selling local gin should be banned.

The government should ensure they are no longer close to where these drivers ply.

Road safety should also do their job which is beyond checking for papers, they should ensure people use seat belts not only in front but also behind which is the standard everywhere in the world.

“Road safety should also embark on a lot of regular trainings and advocacy in communities and make everybody see reasons why we shouldn’t die on the road.

While organisations should also do their bid of training and empowering their drivers on what is right.”

He hammered on enforcement. “We have laws in the country even though some may be obsolete but enforcing the laws and compliance is the major problem.

The presidency and the executive council need to look into signing the professional health and safety bill.

When signed into law, a lot of organisations will start following procedures; tankers come from a company, do they understand that some people can come to inspect them and find them guilty, but that does not happen here.”

Another safety expert and Managing Director Hybrid Limited, a health and safety-consulting firm, Mr. Dapo Omolade said that the need for safety in workplaces, homes and environment has been a thing of concern.

“Everyone is practically scared and wondering what the next disaster or accident will be.

The truth remains that the level of awareness that exists is very little so practically everyone walks around thinking they can get back home without knowing steps to take when anything goes wrong or even prevent.

We are reactive to issues; nobody is talking about what we should do before the tanker explodes, which is a proactive measure Nigerians have not embraced.

Look at the noise and concerns that followed after the tanker explosion, those who lost loved ones are mourning, including those who lost cars, but then everyone has gone back to normal like nothing happened.

He noted that people are not knowledgeable about the implications of certain hazards around us, you will expect that if there is a fire, I will be struggling to take my phone rather than find the nearest exit.

It is natural for everyone to protect his assets, but when one says that there’s petrol dripping on the floor, the next point should be how to get to a safe place and that can be achieved if you know what harm the petrol can do to you.

Others may consider it as free petrol and decide to scoop without knowing what they are playing with, and so knowledge is the issue.

If you know what the hazard is then the response will be different, so the problem is the knowledge of health and safety.

Residents Decry Incessant Tanker
Accidents in Lagos

By Maria Diamond

LAGOSIANS have said that, the increase in number of casualties relating to tanker incidents is as a result of paranoia, ignorance, insensitivity to the gravity of tanker crisis.

Kafilat Abdulahi, a trader at Ipaja Ayobo explained that, there is no amount of preparation that can really be put into emergency as it usually happens suddenly in the middle of running your day, and most of the times, people are too shock to come up with spontaneous way out.

“Not everyone is educated on emergency management, most people get paranoid and freak out, losing their sense of reasoning to appropriate measures.

“Sometimes in this vicinity, ordinary loud raid by SARS lead to minor casualties, you see people falling on themselves and getting injured, just because they are trying to take cover from crime hunt that has nothing to do with them.

“So imagine what will happen if a petrol tanker begins to spill fuel and there is the possibility of explosion; instead of people to device a control measure to avert disaster, they just get paranoid and the worst happens,” she said.

Adanna Obiora, a foodstuff retailer along Lasu Isheri road disclosed that there had been a similar fuel tanker failed break incident a couple of weeks back at Odo-eran bus stop, but inherent calamity was averted due to safety measures applied by everyone around.

“Surprisingly, people were sensible enough to call appropriate rescue teams who made sure there were no casualties until the tanker was safely disposed of its fuel to another tanker.

“So I think it’s about right sensibilities that goes beyond risk taking in crisis to knowing what measures to take, and taking it in time,” she said.

Obiora further said she thinks the flaw with people in terms of handling emergency incidents, is basically lack of in-depth understanding that they can actually become victims if incident is not quickly controlled.

“People usually tend to play smart without thinking smart; some want to keep their personal effects safe, others in a hurry to reach destination hereby risking their lives as these incidents happen in the blink of an eye.

“If you ask me, the first thing I would do is flee, leaving personal effects behind once I sense that I would be in danger if I remain at the spot.

“However, if it’s safe to be around, the next measure would be getting the right authority and see what I can do to avoid or reduce casualties, because we are all responsible for each other’s well being,” she said.

Hakeem Ogunjimi, a roadside vulcaniser at Lasu Isheri road said, a lot of people contribute to death tolls because of ignorance, so there should be a platform for educating Nigerians on how to take cover and handle emergencies.

“The fuel tanker incident that happened weeks back on this road was only averted due to bravery by some people who ensured that vehicles were stopped from both sides of the road, engines turned off and people kept at bay from the spot until security and safety agencies arrived.

“Some people didn’t even want to comply to this caution with numerous excuses of being in a hurry to get somewhere as though their destination was more important than their lives.

“They were practically forced to stay off the spot of incident; you then wonder how insensitive people can be to such detrimental incident,” he said.


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