Fire-fighters struggle with high-tech equipment

April 2, 2012 1:29 pm
This fire engine was launched by President Kibaki in 2011 @CapitalFM

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 2 – Questions are being raised about the capability of City Council of Nairobi (CCN) to respond to fire outbreaks, despite having equipment billed as some of the best in Africa.

Nairobi city residents and investors are furious with City Hall over its slow response and apparent incompetence in battling the blaze that partially destroyed Kimathi House on Sunday night.

Witnesses to the blaze said when the state-of-the art fire engine arrived, albeit late, the fire fighters appeared unsure how to operate the ladder.

“We could see them making calls asking for instructions on how to get the ladder up. By this time, the fire was burning out of control,” one witness said.

The Nairobi Central District Association said their audit showed that City Hall had sufficient fire-fighting equipment but its personnel lacked training on how to use it.

Chairman Timothy Muriuki claimed the council had also failed to conduct drills and ensure that their fire-fighting equipment was in working condition.

City residents and those affected by the fire demanded an explanation from the CCN, to know why fire fighters who rushed to the scene were ill-equipped to fight the blaze.

“There is no need of having people on a 24hr shift if they cannot fight such a simple fire. City Hall must now tell us what type of fires they can be able to fight so that we can plan on engaging private fire-fighting companies,” said Joyce Njoki who operates a beauty shop on Tom Mboya Street.

Esther Gachie who works for a law firm on the 5th floor of Kimathi House also fumed at the council.

“Their work is to rush to arrest people with minor mistakes. When there is fire, they come late and with no water. If they have water they have no workers. Why do we have private fire companies helping us yet we have CCN? The fire started on 6th floor, where were they when it spread to 5th floor? If they were efficient, at least we would not be counting such big losses,” she asserted.

She regretted that she was among the Kenyans likely to lose their sources of income following the fire. “It’s hurting us… we are not working now and we are now suffering because of a simple thing. We are not even sure we will have our jobs back. CCN is just here. Nakumatt Downtown (located directly opposite) got burnt the same way; laxity by CCN.”

Kimathi House brought back the memories of the Nakumatt Downtown Supermarket fire which burnt down in January 2009, leaving about 20 people dead.

By then, the council promised it would start comprehensive steps to manage fires and improve their response in the city. But the same mistakes witnessed in the Nakumatt fire were replicated at the Kimathi House blaze a few metres away.

Peter Tindy who owned an events business on the 7th floor of the building also vented anger at the CNN saying the fire would not have spread if it was well equipped also with efficient manpower.

He also expressed dismay that communication from the proprietor was poor even after the fire accident. “The response from the management is not welcoming. There is no order. There is no information desk to tell us what is going on. Up to now we have not seen anything. There is proper disorganization.”

Workers at another law firm on the 7th floor of the same building said they were shocked that almost four floors were damaged yet the fire station is located few metres away.

Later on Monday, tenants were allowed into the building to assess the damage. They were however cautioned that the building remained precarious.

The fire came barely a year after President Kibaki unveiled what was said to be the longest fire fighting ladder in Africa at the KICC.

The 56-metre ladder was expected to improve fire fighting capabilities in tall buildings located in the city.

At the time of commissioning the new fire engines, a demonstration was conducted at the KICC, one of Kenya’s tallest buildings to show its capability.

During the official launch of the fire fighting engines for the Nairobi Metropolitan region on April 13, 2011 President Kibaki ordered local authorities to set aside sufficient land to establish fully equipped fire stations in diverse locations for timely intervention during fire outbreaks.


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