If an inferno broke out within both urban or rural settings, chances salvaging property and saving lives are grim if a new report’s findings are anything to go by.
Add to the fact that Kenyans are still averse to insurance, recovery of businesses razed by fires lies in limbo.
The damning report by the Kenya National Fire Brigade Association (Kenfiba) reveals that there are only 600 firefighters in the whole country to serve a population of about 46 million people.
This means that there is only one firefighter for at least 66,666 Kenyans, with only the major centres Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Kiambu and Thika having “fully operational fire stations”.
While there is a National Policy for Disaster Management (2009), Kenya has never legislated nor implemented specific policies on fire and rescue services.
The Fourth Schedule of the Constitution says firefighting is the county governments’ mandate.
But lack of a comprehensive fire and rescue services law leaves Kenyans unprepared to handle fire emergencies, thus the huge losses and rising number of deaths.
“During the last 10 years, three fire incidents alone have led to an estimated loss of Sh10 billion with over 200 lives lost and more than 300 injuries,” said Ms Ann Mwangi, the chief executive – Association of Fire Protection Industry Stakeholders (AFPIS).
The County Disaster Management (CDM) Bill, 2014 only recognises disaster management, with only two provisions related to fire and rescue services namely; supply of water for firefighting and fire hydrant related offences.
AFPIS is a membership organisation that brings together companies in the fire protection and suppression industry.
Ms Mwangi said the CDM Bill, 2014 fails to amply address fire and rescue services, a critical function of government in ensuring public safety.
She added; “There are a number of provisions that should be covered by any legislation for it to be comprehensive. These include management of fire and rescue services; fire safety and prevention; and water supply – they are all key”.
A policy paper by AFPIS suggests the need for a single national coordinating agency for fire safety and rescue.
Currently, the Ministry of Labour (Department of Occupational Safety and Health), the Directorate of Special Programmes, in the Ministry of Devolution and Planning; the County Fire Departments; the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development (regarding building permits) are the bodies responsible for different aspects of fire safety and prevention – “But are they doing enough?” Ms Mwangi posed.
“International good practice is to have a single fire and rescue authority, which takes the lead in coordination. AFPIS supports the creation of such a lead coordinating agency,” she said.
“Fire safety saves lives and property. Raising awareness amongst the population of how to identify fire hazards and what to do when there is a fire is very crucial.”
Ms Mwangi said success in firefighting means that fire fighters must have immediate access to adequate supplies of water.
The access to, and proximity of water supplies directly affects the resources that fire stations need to provide to protect their communities and mitigate the effects of fires, she said.
Just last week, 40 houses in Nairobi’s Mountain View Estate were razed culminating to millions of shillings in losses in properties – luckily no casualties.
Tenants are on record saying that delayed response by the fire brigade “made the situation worse”.
But this is not the only fire that has moved Kenyans into despair and mourning in the recent past. In most cases, the fire brigade could not be accessed when needed and sometimes arrived with little water.
A good example of fires gone bad are the bouts of school infernos experienced in the country last year.
The grim Sinai slum fire in 2011 is still fresh in people’s memory. It was caused by an explosion secondary to a fuel spill in Nairobi pipeline.
About 100 people died. Another 116 survived but with varying degrees of burns – their lives have never been the same again.