Correspondents of national news media covering Akwa Ibom State have decried the near-collapse of fire service in the state.
The woes bedevilling the sector came to the fore when the home of the Eket zonal Correspondent of News Agency of Nigeria, and Vice Chairman of Correspondents Chapel, Comrade Sunday Bassey was engulfed by fire on Monday night.
Confirming the state of Fire Service, Secretary of the Chapel and Uyo Correspondent of NAN, Mr. Isaiah Eka said all efforts to reach both Eket zonal and Uyo Fire Service offices to save the situation failed, as they all complained of incapacitation.
“I called all the contacts I have on fire service, but they all told me they could not mobilize for such emergency. I had to call the federal Fire Service and was told it was out of their jurisdiction”. he said.
Presenting an account of the incident, the Vice Chairman of Correspondents chapel of NUJ, Akwa Ibom, Comrade Sunday Bassey said
“It was late in the night and my children and I were deeply asleep when the whole building was engulfed by fire. Fortunately, my wife who was still awake opened the window to confirm the strong fire smell and heat which had prevented her from sleeping, only to discover that the whole building was in flames.
“I was alerted and we, first of all, had to rescue our children and a few household items. I thereafter made frantic effort to call Fire Service, but they complained it was not possible to mobilise to arrest the situation”. he lamented.
It could be recalled that the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Works and Fire Service, Prof. Eno Ibanga had, in a recent interaction with newsmen, lamented the deplorable condition of fire service in the state.
Ibanga who had observed that the state Fire Service has been in comatose over the years vowed to revamp the service in line with modern fire fighting operations.
One of the problems he listed to have bedevilled the service was the dearth of staff as he told newsmen that the majority of firefighters and personnel were old and retired or due for retirement.
He, therefore, assured that the planned overhaul would involve recruitment of staff and procurement of modern state-of-the-Art Fire Fighting Equipment. He sued for time and patient to enable the state put up an enduring structure for the service.
“Recently we discovered that almost all the personnel in the state Fire Service had retired, leaving only a small size of the workforce to handle fire emergencies in the state. “
“Technically, equipment in the fire service have become obsolete and need replacement to fight fire outbreak in the state. I am also planning to bring resource persons for intensive training of Fire Men in the state. I will do it at an appropriate time .” he said
When our Correspondent visited the state Fire Service Office along Dominic Utuk Avenue in Uyo, the number of staff met were few, while, with only one functional Fire Truck to attain to Fire Emergencies in the state.
One of the staff who pleaded anonymity said many staff in the state Fire Service had retired, while equipment at their disposal was not enough to tackle fire outbreak.
“It is unfortunate that almost 80 per cent of our staff here have retired and government could not recruit new ones to fill existing vacancies here.
“We don’t have consumables to use. These consumables are chemicals such as F-F-F, Foam chemicals and other detergents needed in our operations.
” Really the state Fire Service needs a total revamp in terms of manpower and equipment to meet fire emergencies,” he said