In October last year, a restaurant at Kisementi, Gasabo District, was razed down in a raging fire caused by metal welders. The fire caused massive damage before it was put out by the Fire and Rescue Brigade. In the same month, a residential house in Kinyinya caught fire resulting from an electric short circuit. Firefighters intervened and the fire was put out. These are just two among the 118 fire incidents in 2014, up from 88 in the previous year.
When the Fire and Rescue Brigade was inaugurated in 2000, it only had one fire truck and a handful of well trained personnel to respond to such emergencies.
Their capacity was overwhelmed and quite often, some fires claimed more lives and property than they would have due to inappropriate response.
However, the department now boasts both modern equipment and a bigger number of personnel with updated firefighting techniques to respond efficiently to fire disasters.
The department, located at the Rwanda National Police (RNP) headquarters in Kacyiru, now has seven firefighting and rescue trucks, which are well equipped with modern tools and technology, to extinguish fires in as little time as possible.
One of the trucks is a special vehicle with capacity to extinguish fire up to the 20th floor of storey buildings. It also has a 55-metre ladder that can enable trapped people to climb down while fire is being put out.
According to the Commanding Officer of the Fire and Rescue Brigade, Superintendent David Kabuye, the force boasts 98 firefighters and rescue personnel, trained in both general firefighting techniques and specific expertise.
Additionally, the first ever firefighting course at the Police Training School in Gishari, Rwamagana District, was successfully concluded last week, with 60 police officers who will contribute toward the existing firefighting and rescue team.
“If procedures are followed, it would take ten minutes for a firefighting team to arrive at the scene and stop the fire before it spreads. Information is key and fire outbreaks need to be reported as soon as possible,” Superintendent Kabuye said.
The Force established an emergency toll free line, 111, which citizens can call in case of a fire outbreak.
“The firefighting trucks we have are made of two components; a water chamber and a foam chamber. Therefore, when fighting a fire, one must understand its cause and know the substance to apply to extinguish it,” he said.
“We also have the expertise and tools to rescue people trapped inside burning buildings.”
Whereas most fire outbreaks are recorded within busy Kigali suburbs, Police understands that such disasters can happen anywhere. It is in that light that Police is planning to roll out more firefighting equipment and personnel across the country.
“Four new firefighting trucks will arrive soon and they will be deployed to the four provinces in order to respond to emergencies. Our goal is to be available wherever fires occur and save lives and property,” he said.
Besides responding to fire outbreaks, preventing them from starting is crucial, and, according to Superintendent Kabuye, part of the firefighters’ duty is to educate the public about fire safety and conducting fire inspections in all buildings.
“Causes of fire outbreaks in the country are mainly; old electric wirings, overloading, carelessness, arson and ignorance. There is a wrong assumption that fires are unpredictable, yet in reality, they usually occur out of avoidable circumstances.
It is, therefore, paramount to sensitise the public on how to avoid causing fires,” he said.
“Officers regularly reach out to businesses and building proprietors and remind them to adhere to essential fire safety measures like installing fire extinguishers and fire hydrants in their premises.”
On top of firefighting, the operational Fire and Rescue Brigade conducts other rescue missions, for example, when people are trapped in a building, or when someone has fallen in a manhole, as well as in times of natural disasters like floods and landslides.