29 April 2013

Liberia: Beware of Fire! Friendly and Outrageous


Liberians treading memory lane must have by now learnt enough lessons to teach upcoming generations about the dangers of fire since a major fire outbreak completely burnt Liberia College in Monrovia before it was rebuilt and reopened as the University of Liberia in 1951.

Since the Liberia College inferno there have been countless major and minor fire incidents in Monrovia and its environs that claimed scores of lives and destroyed public and private properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet, Liberians seem not to fear fire, which can be used as a friend or unleashed as a destructive and deadly enemy.

Among the scores of fire outbreaks that occurred in Monrovia was the inferno at Roxy Cinema during the latter half of the 70s that suffocated dozens of afternoon show spectators while another blaze in congested West Point prompted the dismissal of President William Tolbert's affable director of the SSS, Varney Dempster and replacement by his deputy Nathaniel Barco.

[But Mr. Barco died few months later from injuries sustained in a presidential convoy accident returning from Lofa County and Mr. Edward P. Massaquoi succeeded him.]

Tolbert, in his trademark sparkling white safari suit, was early one rainy morning inspecting the aftermath of a fire that gutted a large part of West Point the night before when his chief bodyguard--Varney Dempster--also fond of wearing sparkling white attire like the President and Foreign Minister C. Cecil Dennis--refused to walk through muddy West Point and instead assigned Barco to guard the President to the scene of the disaster.

Mr. Dempster's reward: Tolbert promptly fired him upon return to the Mansion. But he was appointed director of police within months and served until the April 14, 1979 rice riots.

Again, a conflagration that started one Friday evening in 1983 consumed records in the top floor reconciliation section at the Finance Ministry to the helplessness of fire hydrants from the Liberia National Fire Service (LNSF) though firefighters from Harbel and Roberts International Airport belatedly joined them following an SOS.

Finance Minister G. Alvin Jones was retiring from the day's work when the fire broke out, burning government expenditure records American auditors dubbed Opex team from Washington needed to scrutinize how President Samuel

Doe's regime used US$500 million reportedly received from the US government in ten years--the highest sum the American government ever gave in direct assistance to any other Liberian government.

With records for the audit, the Opex Team swiftly left Monrovia without scrutinizing expenditures of the publicized 500 million dollars assistance to President Doe in ten years, and no reactions from Washington were published in Monrovia.

Countless fires have continued to raze homes and other structures in almost all parts of Monrovia and its environs mostly due to carelessness with lit candles and mosquito coils while other fires occurred due to the mishandling of electric generators. But firefighters have over the years failed to determine the actual cause of many fires mainly due to the failure of victims to provide truthful accounts.

When Liberia had full-scale electricity, most fires were wrongly blamed on electrical shocks. But makeshift connections of substandard wires these days by novices are latent dangers of electrical fires and serious burns waiting to happen in case of major shocks from lightning.

The fire outbreak at the Executive Mansion during President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's first year in office and the conflagration that consumed Foauni Industrial Complex last week on UN Drive at Waterside are considered major disasters as the Mansion has been under renovation since while at least six persons, including firefighter, were burnt to death in the Foauni Industrial Complex fire.

Except for the lives lost in the Foauni Industrial Complex inferno, which was reportedly fuelled by highly combustible petroleum products beyond the capacity of personnel of the LNFS, it can be compared to how Liberia College burnt to ashes.

We believe all residents must heed this latest disaster as a wakeup call for extreme precaution against fire, which is friendly but can suddenly become very dangerous.

Thus, in order to harness the unassuming friendship of fire and guard against its sudden wrath, all adult residents must always be keen to participate in fire drills conducted by the Liberia National Fire Service. And we urge the LNFS to intensify its fire drill campaigns.

This will prepare all of us to fully appreciate both extremes of fire--friendliness and outrageousness.

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