Ghana’s firefighting response

NEWS COMMENTARY DISCUSSES THE FIRE THAT GUTTED MAKOLA AND THE SEEMING CHALLENGES FACED BY THE GHANA NATIONAL FIRE SERVICE.

Fire is said to be a good master but a bad servant. In Ghana, the number of destructions that has been caused by fire is enormous. Fire incidents have become a regular occurrence, with thousands of lives and millions of cash and properties lost every year. Hardly a day passes without news of a fire outbreak in some parts of Ghana, causing fear and panic among the people. This generates much discussion centering on rumors relating to politics, sabotage, misfortune, religious differences, and more. Most of these fires—whether domestic, industrial, institutional, commercial, vehicular, or bush—come with devastating consequences, including loss of lives and properties.

Between January 2020 and December that same year, a total of 5,966 fire outbreaks were recorded in the country. This year alone more than one hundred fire outbreaks have been recorded including the fire at Railways Quarters in Accra, Zenith University, Accra Aca, the 56-year-old man who was burnt to death at Asafo Dadiesoba in June 2021, and the Mankessim market fire which destroyed more than 10 stores to mention a few.

In all these fires, we have not taken steps to put in place proper measures to reduce the number of fire outbreaks in our markets. Monday, July 5, fire at the Makola market which ravaged portions of a three-storey building, destroying valuables running into millions of Ghana cedis shows how poorly as a country we plan. This is happening at a time many businesses are recovering from the devastating effect of COVID-19 which has really affected the global economy. Though the Ghana National Fire Service is yet to commence investigation into Monday’s fire, many will not be surprised if the outcome points to electrical problem.

President Akufo-Addo last year when there was a similar situation at the pedestrian shopping mall at Circle in the heat of the 2020 election campaign promised that government will rewire all the major markets in Accra. This was after the President has visited the scene and had interacted with traders and commiserated with them. What has happened to that promise? To date, the land had been left bare and some of the affected traders are yet to benefit from government to restart their businesses.

It is regrettable personnel of the Fire service had to battle Makola fire almost the whole day before subduing it due to the nature of combustible materials sold at that portion of the market. It is sad to hear the Chief Executive of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, Mohammed Nii Adjei Sowah, pontificating that the fire tenders deployed to douse the fire had to go as far as the Kwame Nkrumah interchange (Circle) and Kaneshie in search of water distances of 6.8 kilometers and 2.8 kilometers from the scene of the incident. The question is, as Chief Executive superintending over a densely populated area like Accra which hosts most of the major markets in the country, what has he done to ensure that the market has enough water hydrants for an emergency situation like what happened on Monday?

Again, what education has the Assembly been giving to these traders to ensure all the electrical gadgets are put off at the end of each business day? Does the assembly not have security guards that patrol the markets to ensure traders adhere to all the safety protocols and even help in the early detection of situations like Monday’s fire. It is becoming too much when people who are appointed to solve and manage situations rather turn around to lament about challenges they have been employed to solve. The Fire Service has to be reprimanded for the late attendance to Monday’s fire disaster leading to huge loss of property. According to the Public Relations Officer, Ellis Robinson Okoe, the Service was alerted about the fire at 9 a.m., three hours after it erupted. He said if the Service had been alerted around 6:30 a., his men would have been able to douse the fire before it got worse.

This blame game to put it bluntly is needless when dozens of traders are in a state of shock as to how they will service the thousands and millions of loans they have taken from the banks to stock their stalls. I think it is not out of place for the Fire Service to have satellite stations in these markets not only at Makola but all the major markets across the country with at least one official who is able to relay information as timely as possible to closest the station without relying on information from the public who may not even know the shortcode to the service.

The social impact of this fire on victims is enormous. Some may never recover again from the shock. The trauma of victims who have secured short-term loans to finance their businesses is unimaginable. The most unfortunate thing is in our part of the world most of these shops hardily insure their goods against fire. It is said that in every bad situation there are opportunities. The insurance companies should take advantage of this situation to reorient the minds of the traders on the need to insure their stalls and goods for emergency situations like this.

The Ghana Union of Traders Association, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and its partners can assist in this direction. While we commiserate with those affected by fire disaster, government must assist and get some of them back on their feet. This should be devoid of the usual politics. The assistance and assurance from the government must not be the usual political talk. The time to act is now.

BY FELIX COFIE, A JOURNALIST.

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