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Kenyan capital better equipped to fight fires

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 13 – President Mwai Kibaki has emphasised the need to improve the accessibility by fire engines to informal settlements, to reduce damage caused by fire breakouts.

The Head of State said on Wednesday that many lives are lost due to congestion in these settlements which in turn limit their accessibility leading to loss of life.

He was speaking after commissioning four fire engines each with 56 meter ladders, where he also stressed the need for the decentralisation of the Nairobi Fire Station to improve service delivery.

"One of the biggest challenges that our fire fighters face when fires break out especially in informal settlements is that fire engines are not able to access the location of the fires due to congestion," President Kibaki said.

During the event, the President urged all Kenyans to be extra vigilant and responsible to ensure that fires are avoided.

"I call upon local authorities, the Provincial Administration and residents in these areas to work together and come up with viable solutions that will create access to the innermost parts of these settlements," he stated.

The Nairobi Metropolitan Development Ministry is in the meantime seeking to supply tri-cycle and motor cycle fire engines to all local authorities to ease access within the informal settlements.

Minister Njeru Githae said that the engines will further ensure that fires are contained in areas where fire engine trucks do not have access.

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He stated that this will in turn reduce the loss of life and property during fire incidents.

"We have decided to purchase for all local authorities what we are calling the tri-cycle fire engines and even motor cycle fire engines that can respond very quickly and will be based in the slums," he pointed out.

"These fires often start very small but before the fire engines reaches there, they will have already spread resulting in great loss of lives and property." 

The Nairobi Metropolitan Minister also stated the importance of the Metropolitan Bill being passed saying it will among other things streamline the city\’s fire department.

"We could have achieved more if our Metropolitan Bill would have been passed by Parliament because under this Act, all the emergency services would have been under one authority, what we are calling the Metropolitan Disaster and Emergency Services," he said. "What happens nowadays is that… let\’s say there is a fire at Mlolongo in Mavoko, the nearest fire station is at Jomo Kenyatta."

This year, some houses in Kangemi\’s Gatwikira slum and South B\’s Maasai and Kayaba slums were consumed by fire.

The latter incident happened twice leaving in its wake two dead children and more than 5,000 houses burnt down.  Deep Sea slum in Parklands is another on the list of the affected.

According to the 2009 Census, Nairobi has five million people with more than half living in informal settlements.

However, there is no sufficient equipment to serve this population with the city council having only 96 fire fighters meant to operate with eight fire engines.

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But of this, only 3 are usually at hand whenever an incident strikes. This makes the city\’s reaction to fire among the slowest with a minimum time of 30 minutes.

In its 2010/2011 budget of Sh12.6 billion, the council allocated Sh100 million to disaster management but raising this revenue is another challenge.

While private firms like G4S and KK Security usually respond to calls but charge for their services meaning they may choose to respond only with a guarantee to be paid by the government.

A fire incident is charged between Sh25, 000 and Sh70,000 depending on the material used to extinguish the blaze.

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