PNGFS needs to better prepared


IT looks like we are waiting for a major disaster to happen, especially in our bigger municipalities, before something is done to improve the PNG Fire Service.
It seems that authorities in charge of allocating public funds to essential services think there is very little chance of a major fire happening in one of high-rise buildings in the middle of our towns and cities.
For how else can one explain the lack of attention given by authorities to this very important public and essential service?
One cannot blame Acting Chief Fire Officer Bill Roo and his team for agitating now and again about the need for proper equipment and resources by our firemen.
Right now, 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.
Roo again points out this week that they urgently need equipment such as ladder trucks to deal with such situations.
They need fire hydrants appropriately located in buildings and public properties to help them put out a fire.
The lack of fire hydrants along the main roads in towns and cities makes their jobs more difficult. They need water to put out a fire.
In fact, the fire service, as Chief Fire Officer Isaac Silas rightly pointed out last year, has been neglected for at least 40 years.
The lack of investment in fire safety is costing the country and its people much.
And sadly, nothing has been done about it. If it has, the fire service is yet to be told about it.
There is also the matter of bush fires threatening lives and properties near densely populated areas which firefighters sometimes are often called to attend to.
In other countries, the fire service is given high priority because of the important duty they do to save lives and properties. They are provided the most modern facilities which are progressively upgraded to suit the needs of property owners and those who occupy the properties.
Not in PNG. One cannot be blamed for surmising that we place little value to lives and properties.
With what they have been provided with, Roo and his firefighters know they cannot do much to effectively deal with high-rise buildings in the shortest possible time to save lives. They have received the training but they do not have the tools.
Of course they will do whatever they can to save lives with the resources they have. But they cannot minimise casualties that way, something that all good firefighters are trained and expected to do.
Yet they watch every day, in Port Moresby for example, tall buildings sprouting up everywhere and forever changing the landscape in our urban jungles.
Silas last year estimated that it would cost around K14 million to upgrade fire-fighting equipment and fix the manpower problems. That may be a conservative estimate given the expansion and development of our urban centres since.
The Government has a good opportunity to fix this in the 2017 national budget scheduled to be handed down next month.
If there is no money, ask our good friends such as Australia to donate these equipment. They have plenty of those red trucks in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. No doubt they will only be too willing to lend us a few – especially the ones with ladders which firefighters need for the high-rise buildings.
And let’s not forget that we are hosting APEC in November 2018 – about 24 months away. As hosts, we are responsible for the safety of our guests who will be using some of these buildings and facilities in the cities and towns. Thus to avoid any embarrassing situations, the needs of the Fire Service have to be met. Provide the equipment and resources, test them that they are working, and give the firefighters the appropriate training to use the new equipment.
To say that this is an alarmist view is to ignore the reality on the ground. Potential disaster is staring us in the face.
It always makes sense to take preventative measures before disaster strikes. That’s when the finger-pointing begins.
The work of firefighters is an unenviable one. They put their lives at risk to save lives and properties. That is what they vow to do. And it is what we expect of them.
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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