Rwanda National Police first floated immediate response mechanism in 2013 in partnership with the City of Kigali and Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) with the installation of water hydrants in different parts of the city as a stop-gap measure to counter fire breakouts.
Several water hydrants have since been installed around facilities such as hotels, financial institutions, night clubs, schools, petrol stations and markets.
The recent spate of fires with 77 cases of outbreaks registered last year, has given Police response readiness new impetus.
Last year’s fire cases were lower compared to 2012 when 93 cases were recorded.
About 40 cases of the fire incidents registered last year were caused by short-circuit.
Fifty out of 93 cases registered in 2012 were also due to short circuit.
Some short circuits are caused by damaged electrical conductors, substandard, poor or old installations which cannot accommodate the connected electrical gadgets like welding, according to experts.
Other fire breakout cases are caused by candles.
Police have hotlines for the pubic to report fire outbreaks. The numbers are 111, 07888311224, 07888311120 and 0788311335 as the contacts that can be used to call the RNP’s fire and rescue unit, in case of any fire incident.
But other than this, Police are not well-equipped to respond rapidly to fire outbreaks.
Information on the web site of RNP says Rwanda possesses only two equipped fire-fighter vehicles and one equipped rescue vehicle–which can obviously not cover a country of 26,000 square kilometres and protect a population of 11 million people from fire.
Ignatius Mugabo, a fire-fighter expert of Mugolds International Fire Risk Management Ltd, a British-Rwandan company providing fire-fighting services in the country, says it is big challenge to provide a nationwide fire- fighting system.
“Fire is a common tool in our daily lives since the Stone Age, but it is also a threat to life and property everywhere, increasing in rapidly urbanising countries such as Rwanda,” he says.
“Tell me how a fire-fighting machine based in Kacyiru, Kigali, will respond and fight a fire outbreak in Nyagatare or Cyangungu? It’s a joke! And those who run the fire department in the National Police know this very well.”
How time matters
Fire-fighting standards of the United Kingdom, for example, say the first fire- fighting appliance must be at the scene in five minutes after having got the emergency call.
The second fire appliance should be at the scene in eight minutes to provide back up if needed.
Mugabo illustrates what that would mean for Rwanda: “If fire breaks out, say in Gikondo, the Fire Station in Gikondo will dispatch the first fire appliance to be at the scene in five minutes, and the second fire appliance is on standby in case it is needed. The nearest fire station, say in Kicukiro, is put on alert to dispatch back up appliances if needed.”
Working with this fire-fighting system, London, for example, has more than 100 fire stations spread across the city.
“In London, there is a fire station within a five-minute reach of any installation or building,” says Mugabo.
Such an effective fire protection is based on the idea of “time of arrival”.
That means that the fire-fighters have to catch the fire before it goes out of control. This is only possible if the fire brigade can reach the incident as fast as possible.
However, not withstanding is the fact that even with a fully-fledged response mechanism, response delays abound because of traffic jams.
“We don’t even have a single fully-fledged fire station. Even in Kigali, time of arrival is problematic because traffic flow does not give priority to emergency vehicles. People need to be educated; it could be your loved one in an emergency,” the fire-fighter says.
Jean de Dieu Gashiramanga, the commanding officer of the Police’s Fire and Rescue Brigade, said the Fire and Rescue Brigade of the Rwanda National Police is responsible for making the country safe from fire and quick response to emergency rescues to minimise fire related effects.
“The Rwanda National Police put in place measures to prevent and put out fire, which include acquiring professional equipment, training its staff and conducting public awareness and equipping owners of facilities with skills to put out the fire themselves,” Gashiramanga said, citing fire-fighting trucks with cranes, excavator and oxygen compressor machines.
RNP also educates the public on fire -fighting techniques risk, he said.
Owners of buildings are urged to always use accredited electrical equipment, to inspect them regularly and to install fire-fighting gadgets in their buildings.
Tips such as keeping kitchen towels and oven mitts away from stoves while cooking or turning off electrical appliances and unpluging cables after use and always having sand or water around to put out little fires quickly have to be spread in the public.
Other preventative measures include not to light cigarettes in highly sensitive locations such as gas stations and not to leave cooking pots and pans unattended.
Police, however, say some people take too long to alert the Force in case of a fire breakout, which leads to loss of property.
“The public should always contact us on the availed hotlines and other lines so that we intervene as soon as possible,” Gashiramanga said.
The development of a nationwide working fire-fighting system is also important for a growing economy.
Mugabo says prospective investors often inquire about the state of fire safety in the country.
“They want to know if their investments will be all-round protected,” he says.
He says fire can destroy property within minutes upcountry if Police there are not well-equipped to put it out.
In his professional point of view, he sees the only chance for a country covering fire brigade is separating fire safety from the RNP and giving responsibilities to local government, at least at the district level.
“With the current pace of infrastructure development, fire safety challenges cannot be effectively managed by the National Police. The Police cannot be the crime fighters, the firefighters, road safety managers, disaster managers, emergency responders, all rolled in one. Police normally provides back up in some of these areas, but there should be a responsible agency in those areas that are not the core responsibility of the Police,” Mugabo says.
Inter-agency coordination is quite important. The fire authority would also solicit and build co-operation with advanced fire and rescue authorities in other countries, through international co-operation mechanisms, according to Mugabo.
The RNP has its plate full to the brim; fire is just a little cousin, he says.
For now, Mugabo sees a long journey as policymakers chart ways for providing an effective and nationwide fire safety management and fire- fighting mechanism in the country.
However, he acknowledges “tremendous stride” made by various establishments to counter fire outbreaks, naming several public institutions in this regard.