THE HEADLINES last week were all about fires gutting buildings, claiming lives, injuring scores and destroying property worth millions.
In one week alone, five people were killed, 60 injured and millions worth of goods have gone up in smoke.
Night clubs, schools, prisons and shopping complexes have been burned down sometimes to ash. The causes have ranged from poor electricity installations to – more worryingly – suspected arson.
Last year, The New Times reported that Byimana School of Sciences located in the Southern Province, was torched on three different occasions in less than 40 days. Three dormitories and the chapel were burned down with a whopping Rwf 700 million spent on reconstruction. The teenage suspects were apprehended and no fire has broken out ever since.
Every country or city has had to deal with fires. Neighbouring Burundi and Uganda have seen their largest markets in the city centres go up in flames. Kampala’s Owino market has actually been burned down a few times leaving traders counting losses, shattering livelihoods of families.
The latest two fire outbreaks in Rwanda, Rubavu Prison and the quartier Mateus, that occurred within one week, have brought to the forefront the challenges within the country’s firefighting department.
For Rubavu Prison, the firefighters found difficulty accessing the facility due to the terrain and no proper roads. In Kigali, there is strong belief that the firefighting techniques were not that efficient given the complexity of maneuvering the area and the highly-inflammable merchandise that just kept fueling the fire.
While the Police have announced that they have procured more firefighting trucks and the government has issued new safety regulations including compelling buildings to have firefighting equipment, that is clearly not enough to take on increasing fire incidences.
The government should seriously consider purchasing helicopters fully equipped with fire fighting gear.
Here is why: If this chopper was available, the lack of an access road to Rubavu Prison would not have been an issue. Not to mention the near-by lake Kivu that would be an ideal source of water in the event that the chopper needed multiple refills.
If this chopper was available, Property in Muhanga Prison would have been salvaged as Fire Fighting trucks had to be dispatched from Kigali which is about one hour away. It could have taken a chopper about 15 minutes to get to the facility. They are simply not affected by traffic.
If the chopper was available it could have put out the fire in Quartier Mateus more efficiently. With the kind of goods that were fueling the fire, sand instead of water could have been a better option. Choppers are better equipped to use sand to fight fire.
In the coming years, we should expect more fires. Now that we acknowledge there’re more looming outbreaks, we must plan accordingly. Failure to do so is inexcusable.
Of course, we must acknowledge the steep cost when tabling the case for choppers. However, there is no cost for thinking big. The rate at which cities in the region are expanding calls for more efficient and collaborative ways for such rescue situations.
It may take a while for Rwanda to set up its own top notch fire fighting departments, but being a member of the East African Community there is opportunity here considering fires are a shared challenge.
Together, EAC partner states can create a fire fighting department with stations located in different parts of the region, that way sharing costs for both creation and keeping the departments up and running. And, once this is done, they can even expand their service to non member states in the region. After all there are groupings such as EAPPCO [East Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation] that have already created a fertile ground for such cooperation.