A wave of fire outbreaks in Monrovia, the latest being the fire on Randall Street that destroyed several buildings and left many homeless and another in Vai Town, have highlighted the need for adequate support to the Liberia National Fire Service (LNFS) which has been woeful to say the least.
Nevertheless, the National Fire Service, although severely hamstrung by insufficient trained manpower, generally low salaries and the lack of up to date firefighting equipment, has been responding to fire outbreaks which appear to be on the increase especially in Monrovia and Montserrado County at large.
According to official statistics, most fire outbreaks occur in and around Monrovia, the nation's largest population center. Common causes of these outbreaks have been attributed to burning candles, electrical faults, mosquito coils, etc. Unfortunately however, the National Fire Service lacks the ability to adequately respond to these fire outbreaks in Monrovia.
The situation is made worse by the lack of running or pipe borne water, in most parts of the capital, that can be accessed in case of fire outbreaks. It can be recalled that prior to the civil war, fire hydrants were installed around the city from where fire hoses could be attached to provide a continuous flow of water to fight fire outbreaks.
In apparent response to the critical situation facing the institution, the LNFS with close support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2015 released a five-year strategic plan outlining where the institution wants to see itself within five years.
The LFNS was careful to stress that the lack of budgetary support was severely constraining its ability to effectively discharge its functions. The strategic plan also emphasized the need for training of firefighting personnel as well as provision of the requisite firefighting equipment including fire proof garments, hoists and other related equipment.
Currently, the Fire Service boasts of only four (4) fire trucks to serve a population of 4.3 million people distributed across the 15 counties of Liberia with total manpower strength of about 600 persons. It also has a total of six substations around the country with half of that number in Monrovia while the remaining three (3) substations are located outside Monrovia in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, Buchanan in Grand Bassa and Harper in Maryland County.
Each of the substations located in Monrovia have a fire truck but none are in full working order while the remaining substations in the counties have no fire trucks at all. Although the LNFS strategic plan calls for the construction of 11 additional substations around the country and the provision of adequate firefighting equipment and trained manpower, it appears that such considerations may lie far at the bottom of the country's priorities.
This then brings us to the question of the much heralded and ongoing Security Sector Reform (SSR) process and how it has mainstreamed fire prevention into the country's SSR budgetary and planning processes. As it appears, in case of major fire outbreaks around Monrovia and elsewhere, the LNFS, as the recent Randall Street fire outbreak attests, would find itself hard pressed to respond in any meaningful way.
Why then has the Government of Liberia neglected such an important and vital service? In 2015, for example, total budgetary allocation to the Liberia National Fire Service amounted to a scant US$424,568 dollars for salaries and operational support.
An amount of US$3,400,000 was proposed by the Fire Service for the 2015-2016 fiscal periods which was not met and, for the 2017-2018 fiscal period, an insignificant amount of US$1,558,456 is allocated for fire protection services.
The implications of this official nonchalant attitude to fire protection, prevention and control are grave and require collective action especially on the part of the national legislature to address this matter, which if left unchecked could become a potential source of threat to national security.
It is indeed shameful and a downright national disgrace that all the huffing, puffing and seemingly self-assured posture by past officials about Security Sector Reform, the continent oldest independent republic cannot boast of an effective and well equipped firefighting force worth mentioning.
In conclusion, it can be said that the Liberia National Fire Service has been and is being undermined by official neglect which is completely unacceptable. Just how long can the Liberian people continue to suffer from such neglect?
The Daily Observer urges President Weah to address this matter with a sense of urgency.