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Govt urged to focuse on recent fire outbreaks
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General News of Saturday, 27 March 2010

Source: Kofi Bentil, Senior Fellow, IMANI

Govt urged to focuse on recent fire outbreaks

Author, Kofi Bentil, Senior Fellow, IMANI

We have recently experienced a worrying spate of fires and each year we experience disasters which take preventable tolls on lives and property. The recent spate of fires have taken us all by surprise, and brought pressure on government and the officials involved to be more decisive going forward. At Imani, we also want to see things happen, but we detect worrying signals that portend overzealousness, culminating in wasteful and misplaced spending. We can only urge our political managers to hasten slowly.

Incidentally we have been doing some background work on Ghana’s emergency services especially the Ghana Fire Service(GFS), National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), The engineers regiment of the Ghana army, The Police and other security agencies with a view to find out what is the best way to form an effective emergency response unit without setting up a new bureaucracy. Our (uncompleted) work points to a suggestion that it may be viable and cost effective to combine the operations of NADMO and the GFS into one unit and form a working relationship with the Ghana Army (especially the engineers Corps) so that in case of emergencies, they will kick in as one unit and help the situation. There are ideas to even absorb all of them into the Army and make them the emergency response and rescue unit for the Nation, but still remain a unit of the Army. With hardly any model to follow, the biggest question is whether we will be bold to start something innovative which others may well copy, but we digress.

Given the spate of fires and disasters, what we should do as a nation must include, prevent what can be prevented and set up a system to give early warning on impending disasters. However, in the event of an unpredictable situation, such as earthquakes, a well rehearsed system should be in place which kicks-in immediately the event occurs.

Agreeably efforts are being made to achieve some of the suggestions above; however, much effort and resources are going towards two key actions: purchasing equipment to enable us measure an earthquake’s magnitude or intensity and purchasing new sophisticated fire tenders for the Fire Service.

Our problem is that none of these two major efforts will do much to solve the problems we face. Here is why;

a. Earthquake equipment

This issue became topical after the recent scare. What was clearly a scam kept us awake, and subsequently everyone was asking whether our earthquake and seismic equipment were up to date. In response Government has revived an old plan to purchase some seismic equipment costing a few million dollars so we can be seen to be ‘doing something’.

Problem is that this equipment CANNOT PREDICT, but only measure an earthquake AFTER it has happened. It seems that surviving an earthquake is what should occupy our minds and resources, rather than accurately measuring it.

b. The new fire tenders

Indeed more tenders will help; the problem is which kind of tender? In the past we bought and paraded complex expensive tenders with multiple capabilities and gadgetry, which also meant they could only have small tanks.

Unlike special fires (e.g. in chemical plants), most fires in Ghana mostly require lots of plain water to deal with, these expensive tenders rush to the scene with all the fancy gadgetry when all we really need is a powerful pump and lots of water. Because of the small tanks, the water usually runs out in about 15 minutes on full power, and then the firemen wait for more water as they watch the properties burn (because we don’t have working hydrants).

In our research we found that when the GFS calls for help during a fire, most of the time they only ask for more water. Apart from the recent fire at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, most fires are within reach of existing ladders, and if the Fire Service was able to reach the site early (road design, town planning and traffic congestion allowing), the most important equipment left were powerful working pumps and lots of water!

Hopefully, we will see the fruition of the intention of the GFS to buy big water tankers and pilot vehicles mounted with strong pumps so that whenever there is a fire, they move to the site together and as the first tanker is being used, other tankers rush in to join.

The purchase of sophisticated tenders capable of spraying foam, chemicals, water, in the past almost always led to wasteful (almost criminal negligence) on the part of GFS officials. It is alleged that most of these tenders spend most of their time delivering water to the homes of senior fire officers and government officials till they break down. Why should we spend such huge sums of money buying sophisticated equipment we don’t need, to use for duties that other far less expensive equipment can perform?

We seriously urge that the government reconsider the purchase of the new tenders. Each tender may be able to buy many large water tankers (which we can build in Ghana), and pilot vehicles mounted with powerful fire pumps!

We wish to raise this alert for both officials and citizens to reflect on the use of our scarce funds, and also look hard at the options else we would be recycling outdated and expensive solutions and expecting different results, something b Albert Einstein defined as insanity.

Author,

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