Nairobi News


Sort out the fire department to avoid catastrophes

Property valued at millions of shillings has been destroyed in yet another blaze at Gikomba, Nairobi’s biggest open air market.

Yet traders say the Monday night fire could easily have been contained in good time.

But as always happens in Nairobi, firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes, only to realise that they had not carried enough water to put out the inferno.

Within less than 10 minutes, the pumps had run out of water and had to call off the exercise. The next fire engine arrived a whole 12 hours later, by which time the damage had been done.

This is not the first time we are seeing a fire at Gikomba.

Barely two months ago, another blaze destroyed part of the market. And as on Monday night, the firefighters were unable to put out the inferno in good time, thanks to the usual challenges of inadequate manpower and resources.

One would have expected that by now the county government would have fixed the myriad challenges facing the fire department. It is however evident that little has been done to improve the department’s capacity.

What we are seeing instead are city politicians rushing to the scenes of fires to empathise with the victims, if only to gain cheap political mileage.

When fire engulfed the market two months ago, we all saw the drama of the city’s political leadership accusing each other of failing to visit the victims. One even called the newsroom to ask why his picture was not used with the story.

We must remind our leaders that handouts and sympathy may offer temporary relief to the victims, but not lasting solutions to the challenges facing the fire department.

Not-so-long-ago Senator Mike Sonko made a call to the station but the lines were not working. As a result some officials were sent home but after that what happened?

For one, the department is seriously handicapped in terms of capacity, with only two fire engines in serviceable condition and a handful of firefighters to respond to disasters. It was laughable to see a fire engine being towed after it broke down on Moi Avenue recently.

The Sh100 million set aside to buy three extra fire engines in the 2014/2015 budget is welcome, but authorities at the county government must be told that more needs to be done to address the problem of fires in Nairobi.

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