‘Sea surge threatens Ondo coastal communities amid government’s response failure
Although the Ondo State government is making attempts to respond to emergencies such as road accidents, disease outbreaks and collapsed buildings, the recurrent cases of sea surge, especially in the riverine areas and fire outbreaks have been largely neglected.
The Ondo State Fire Service, whose personnel go through thick and thin to rescue people in danger and with its moribund and dilapidated facilities, is particularly worrisome.
The Ayetoro people in Ilaje council are at the mercy of incessant sea surges and tidal waves, which have submerged more than three kilometres of the community without any local, state and local government rescue initiative for the people in the coastal areas.
However, highway Emergency Medical Agency (ODEMSA) established by the immediate past government of Governor Olusegun Mimiko, among other programmes, are always on timely response. Their prompt emergency rescue efforts have reduced accident deaths on the roads by 79.5 per cent.
There are Emergency Medical Service (EMS) agencies in five entry posts across the state, equipped with well trained personnel and medical facilities at Ilara-Mokin to service Akure/Ilesa and Ibadan highway; ODEMSA at Ore to cater for Benin/Ore Expressway, ODEMSA at Oka to service Akoko/Abuja and Omuo interstate road.
While the ODEMSA in Owo caters for the emergency demands on the Owo/Abuja and Benin, the Bolorunduro in Ondo East local council takes care of the Akure/Ondo and Ore highways.
Aside the unfriendly working environment and poor working conditions, some of the officers, who recounted the risks associated with their job, lamented that in spite of the dangers, the state government only pays the N15 hazard allowance.
The officers, who spoke with The Guardian, said since they joined the service in the mid 1980s, the allowance has not been reviewed, although the State House of Assembly has once raised a motion for a review.
A senior officer noted that they are facing serious constraints since they were working directly under the State Ministry of Works. He explained that autonomy would have gone a long way to help them solve some of the bottlenecks peculiar to the job, but it has always met with stiff opposition.
He disclosed that only Lagos State and Abuja were enjoying some considerable level of autonomy under the Federal Fire Services.
“This is the tragedy of our job. One of my bosses then, Bolanle Medayese, a Director of Fire Service, once had a terrible accident while trying to rescue some victims. Was N15 enough to treat him after the accident?” he asked.
A visit to the state headquarters of the Fire Service in Akure and other stations across the three senatorial districts of Ikare, Oka and Owo in the north; Ondo in the central; Ore and Okitipupa in the south, showed that there was so much left undone.
Checks also revealed that only Okitipupa Fire Service Station has a functional vehicle as the other six stations across the state are having worse challenges. It was learnt that the vehicles at the other stations had been parked for 15 years before they were purchased by the late Adebayo Adefarati-led administration in 2003.
Further checks however, revealed that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) donated four new utility vehicles to the fire services in the oil producing states but the vehicles were hijacked by militants from the Ilaje and Ese-Odo councils, who kidnapped staff of the commission who were going to take delivery of the vehicles.
Another major challenge of the fire fighters is acute shortage of personnel. The Guardian gathered that the work force in the state is less than 70 personnel, while some fire stations have less than five staff and not more than six at any station.
Whereas, the normal standard is eight personnel who run morning, afternoon and night shifts, but reverse is the case. Special duty attachments to the Ondo State House of Assembly (ODHA), Governor’s House and Office, NTA, OSRC and other sensitive posts in the state have stopped since 1992 due to shortage of staff.
This explains the poor intervention by the fire fighters during the 2014 gas explosion near St Thomas’ Cathedral along Arakale Road, Akure and the last fire outbreak at the Governor’s Office during the last visit of the factional chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ali Modu Sheriff in 2016.
Confirming the director’s incident that got worse due to poor working tools, an officer told The Guardian in Ondo that: “We don’t have enough tools such as the hydraulic rescue tools, the spreaders, cutters, flat-head and pick head axe, cutters edge, circular (K-12), spanner wrench, flashlight, Halligan bar and pike-pole.
“How can we work effectively? Lack of Personal Alert Safety System (PASS), safety boots, visors, gloves, climbing helmets, Nomex and carbon flash hoods, Self-contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), pants, turnout jackets, bunker gear and other Personal Protective Equipment designed to withstand water and high temperatures has hampered our operations.”
A visit to the Okitipupa Fire Station showed that the buildings are in sorry state of abandonment and no personnel was on ground that evening, save a parked old model vehicle.
The state Secretary of Young Democratic Party (YDP), Oladeji Ebisemiju, lamented the poor conditions of the Fire Service, asserting that more attention from the state government would increase their productivity.
He urged the state government to review the hazard allowance and give more autonomy to the organisation or allow the Federal Government to fully take it over as it happened in Lagos State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
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