The government agency charged with overseeing fire and rescue services in Tanzania has for long complained that it was operating in difficult conditions, mainly for lack of finance, equipment and trained personnel.
Given its failure to deliver prompt and efficient services, the agency has always found itself under a barrage of scathing attacks from members of the public.
It doesn’t call for confirmation from firefighting experts to appreciate the fact that an ill-equipped and understaffed fire and rescue brigade is of little use.
This manifested itself in a way on Sunday morning when the national fire brigade had no option but to seek help from private firms to battle a fire that erupted at the posh 18-floor PPF Tower in Dar es Salaam.
The brigade’s acting head publicly complained of lack of modern equipment capable of putting out fire in a national commercial capital of more than four million inhabitants that is becoming increasingly characterised by the mushrooming of high-rise buildings in the commercial capital.
Dar es Salaam is hopelessly exposed to all manner of risks, what with the fact that it is the chief base in the country for the storage of petroleum products, it boasts the country’s most important port and international airport, it is home to scores of world-class hotels, and it stands as Tanzania’s chief gateway for the importation and exportation of goods.
The mushrooming of unplanned settlements is one of the factors that have made the city hardly navigable, with road traffic congestion having assumed alarming proportions.
These conditions conspire to make it extremely hard for firefighters to operate smoothly, particularly along pathways meant to serve bustling and densely populated slums.
When fires erupt in such squatter areas, it is only to be expected that all hell breaks loose as even firefighters’ vehicles cannot move fast enough to carry out rescue operations before things get out of hand.
For the national fire and rescue agency to perform its functions efficiently enough, government needs to seriously address the shortage of vehicles and personnel it is facing.
Another area of paramount importance is the need for training in the use of fire-fighting equipment, including for people working and living in high-rise buildings.
Previous fire outbreaks in Dar es Salaam and elsewhere provide ample evidence that few people living in or working from skyscrapers can handle fire extinguishers effectively and few serious efforts have been made to help them out.
We therefore support appeals for the fuller enforcement of the Fire and Rescue Service Act of 2007, under which it is mandatory for owners of high-rise buildings to fit the structures with effective fire-fighting equipment.
Under the particular law, it is a must for all tall buildings to have floor drawings indicating the components’ ability to resist fire, the location of emergency exits, sprinkler and smoke detection systems, etc.
The sad experience we have had with fire outbreaks points to the need to carry out thorough and regular inspections of all high-rise and other buildings in the country in part to ensure that they are fitted with fail-safe standby fire-fighting equipment which even ordinary people can operate. There should not be any compromise on this requirement.