Nakuru battling poor fire disaster preparedness

Nakuru’s preparedness for fire disasters remains wanting, with only 23 firefighters for an estimated two million people.

This works out to a ratio of one fireman to 87,000 people against the international standard of 1:400.

Worse, most of them do not have any formal training in fire fighting; and are employed as casual labourers.

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The situation is complicated by insufficient fire fighting equipment. The county has only two functional fire engines and one water bowser track.

The two fire engines have a water capacity of 10,000 litres and 1,000 litres foam tender each.

According to county Infrastructure executive Lucy Kariuki, the water bowser of 6,000 litres capacity acts as a fire engine in case of a fire outbreak.

“There are two other fire engines of 1,000 litres capacity each in Molo and Naivasha,” she says, but fails to explain why they have been slow in responding to fire incidents.

Added to this are low pay and lack of insurance cover for firefighters, lack of firefighting equipment, staff uniforms and protective gear.

Training facilities

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“Some workers in the department have reached retirement age. We are replacing aging firefighters with young men through an internal training programme,” says Japheth Kuria, the county Chief Fire Officer.

This is why whenever major fires erupt, people die and property worth millions of shillings is destroyed. Such lethargy worries local and international investors eyeing a piece of the Sh280 billion worth of investment opportunities in the soon to be city.

Kuria, an experienced firefighter of four decades, is in charge of the local fire department that the county government plans to transform into an Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit -- a modern outfit that will not only be involved in firefighting but also investigate causes of fires.

The 59-year-old says shortage of firefighting training facilities in the country has hampered the modernisation of the fire departments across all the 47 counties.

He has been a firefighter since 1980. “I was a bush firefighter in the military where I served for seven years and after that, I started fighting fires in Nakuru Municipality,” he recalls, pointing out that the country has training facilities in just Mombasa and Nairobi.

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Two of the 23 firefighters are up for retirement in two years, Kuria in the next one year.

“This will lessen the manpower and that is all because we do not have young people willing to learn how to be firefighters, coupled with lack of proper training facilities,” he says.

Fire awareness programmes have been run to sensitise people on measures needed to fight fire.

“Despite the efforts we have made as a county government since the new administration took over a year ago, 90 per cent of Nakuru residents are still ignorant of precautions to take when fighting fire,” says Kuria.

But Kariuki says all is not lost. She says imparting skills to county staff on firefighting remains crucial, as it will equip them with necessary skills instead of rushing to private firefighting firms for assistance.

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“County personnel are best placed to deal with fire and disasters such as collapse of buildings. They can also participate in architectural designs in the county government from a position of knowledge,” she says.

She says donors and the national government have pledged to help the county government have a modern fire station.

“The county government has already awarded a tender for the purchase of a fire engine this financial year. A donor agency will support our initiative to put up a modern fire station with the central business district,” Kariuki says.

She says the fire response time in the county has improved and the firefighters have been issued with a three-minute response time, which they have been able to achieve so far.

“We have created a forum where I personally monitor the response time. I have so far witnessed the response time in two fire incidents in Langa Langa and in the area around Nakuru Blankets where vegetation was burning,” she says.

Each financial year, the department plans to purchase at least one fire engine, recruit five firefighters and purchase protective gear, says Kariuki.

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