Why Kenya is Ill-Equipped to Contain Fires

indexBy Ooko Victor

Just how prepared are you in case of a fire outbreak? What safety measures do you have in place in your area of residence?

Whereas emergencies require immediate response, foresight comes in handy in predicting the exact habits necessary to guarantee safety. Yet I can bet that the Nairobi County Government and by extension the entire country has this vital component all wrong. I will focus on just one component, the fire extinguisher, and show just how this component could be the game changer in the way the city is managed.

A fire extinguisher is easy to operate. Yet to someone who has never learnt how, leave alone seen one, it could be quite as complex to handle. Better still, the instructions on how to use it, complete with the image breakdown on how to use it to fight fires is inscribed on it. However, in a country where reactionary approach is preferred to anticipation, none of this seems to be of immediate importance.

How many buildings have fire extinguishers?

index1 The first question would be on the availability of the fire extinguisher. Do you have one in your house? How many are available in the apartment you live in? Do you think it is important to have one around? Have you engaged your landlord/lady over the same?

We all take it for granted that fire extinguishers are necessary if not important in all artificial spaces we occupy. When a fire emergency occurs, we are left flat-footed and lose friends and family in addition to property of great value. Businesses have time and again been razed to the ground, and in numerous of these cases, basic fire-fighting skills and equipment could have come in handy to contain the situation.

Nairobi County is reported to have a paltry 100 firefighters employed in its ranks; this against a population of 4 million and steadily growing. With such glaring staff shortage, minimizing the risk of fire outbreaks could be the game changer to ensure the safety of numerous dwellers beyond the reach of this vital resource.

Government Intervention

Nairobi Residents living to the South of Uhuru Highway feel this brunt more than their compatriots to the North. With the booming real estate industry, numerous buildings are put up without the slightest regard for emergency evacuation scenarios. I am yet to read the law in relation to this. It is almost as if the only thing that matters is that the buildings erected are strong enough to last! Yet setting up legal stipulations that ensure all buildings have at least a functional fire extinguisher could go a long way to improving the way our city is managed. This is how;

index2Ensuring that all buildings under the Nairobi City County’s jurisdiction has a fire extinguisher before it can be used by a customer would most definitely trigger conversations surrounding legislation to ensure the extinguishers are made mandatory. These legislations would also include periodic training to tenants and businesses occupying these premises. Such training would in turn go a long way to improve communication within residences in a Nairobi where ‘Nyumba Kumi’ is hardly effective. With such communication, then it is not only the fires that would matter, the same would translate to security issues, further bolstering neighborhood response to insecurity. In addition to this, it becomes even easier to talk about proper waste management in our neighborhoods! These by-laws developed in neighborhoods with loose relationships ultimately matter in ensuring conformity.

There is so much that ails our city. Our leaders unfortunately, try to focus on doing everything at the same time. This strategy is all wrong. We can perfect on one thing and use it to enhance all other aspects of our lives. And if not worthy of consideration as a development strategy, then at least, give it consideration as a basic safety requirement, because it is.

All this seems difficult until someone comes up with a sober implementation plan to oversee the same. I have taken the first step to write about this, then, I will approach my agent for a follow-up. It can be done and it should be done. As the convenient cliche goes, better safe than sorry, right?

The writer is a Research Consultant with Savic Consultants in Nairobi.