Fire service deserves more attention

Editorial

IT is disappointing, outrageous even, to note that not enough attention is being given to providing proper fire-fighting facilities in this country.
We have just been told, after a fire last Friday at a supermarket on Manus killed six women and four men, that 11 out of our 22 provinces do not have facilities to fight fires.
That’s half of the country so to speak. The 11 provinces are Gulf, Central, Manus, Western, West Sepik, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Chimbu, Enga, Southern Highlands, Hela and Jiwaka.
This is unthinkable when one considers the potential of fires happening in our kind of environment and the risks they pose to businesses and homes.
It seems that the authorities allocating public funds to essential services think there is very little chance of a major fire happening in buildings in the middle of towns and cities. For how else can one explain the lack of attention given by authorities to this very important c and essential public service?
It seems that we are still waiting for a catastrophic event to happen, especially in the bigger municipalities, before something is done to improve and extend the PNG Fire Service capacity.
We are amazed with how on one hand we call for more investment, both local and foreign, and on the other fail to provide investors a safe environment to operate in.
We do not want to touch the insurance side of it.
But our mind immediately race forward to Aprec 2018 when world leaders land on our shores, live in our hotels and use our conference rooms. We hate to think of the consequences of a fire happening in a Port Moresby hotel, for example.
Trying to put out a fire in a high-rise building, or attempting to save people trapped in the top floors during an earthquake, or evacuating people during a terrorist attack, will require a Herculean effort on the part of our firefighters.
They do not have the firefighting equipment to deal with such situations.
Chief Fire Officer Bill Roo must be hoarse by now calling on authorities to address the problem, especially the funding bit.
The fire hydrants, too, an important component of firefighting, have often been overlooked during the planning of buildings and developing of properties. Their absence along the main roads in towns and cities are so conspicuous that it should be an embarrassment for the planners.
They do not need to be reminded that firefighters, too, need water to put out a fire. In other countries, the fire service is given priority because of the important duty firemen perform to save lives and properties. They are provided with the most modern facilities which are progressively upgraded to suit the needs of property owners and tenants.
Roo and his fire fighters deserve more attention. Of course they are receiving training to some extent. But the training is useless if they are not provided the appropriate tools to do their jobs.
We watch every day, in Port Moresby for example, tall buildings sprouting up everywhere and forever changing the landscape in our urban jungles.
Hopefully the owners understand what risks they are facing and have taken measures to deal with those.
It is estimated that it will cost around K14 million to upgrade firefighting equipment and fix the manpower problem. That may be a conservative estimate given the expansion and development of our urban centres recently. But it is a wise – and vital – investment.
It always makes sense to take preventative measures before disaster strikes.
Eleven provinces without any fire services is not right. We have come 42 years after independence but still cannot provide a service regarded in many countries as essential.
We are content, it seems, to continue to count the statistics and turn a blind eye to a vital service which should be an integral part of national development.
The work of firefighters is an undesirable one. They put their lives at risk to save lives and properties. Of course that is what they vow to do, and it is what we expect of them.
But the least they deserve is to be provided the necessary tools vital to their work.
It will make their jobs – and our lives – safer.

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