GWT FIRE DISASTER: How Akwa Ibom Fire Service Tackled The Fire Outbreak
– We saw the best from Akwa Ibom Fire service, Eye Witness
– Residents Commends Governor Udom Emmanuel
By Ikopimo Uduakabasi Sunday
Residents of Mbierebe Obio, in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State have expressed appreciation to the Director and men of the Akwa Ibom State Fire Service for the gallantry effort put in tackling the fire outbreak at a filling station, GWT which seats around their vicinity.
Last week Friday, fire was set to have broken out from the filling station when a tanker with about 33, 000 litres of Premium Motor Spirit otherwise known as fuel was being offloaded in the station.
According to Nsikan, an eye witness who spoke to our reporter, he noted that they were at lost on the immediate cause of the fire but what he can tell was that they saw a tanker entering the station and not long after that they heard a loud sound from the station which culminated into a cloud of thick smoke with fire burning deep.
“At first we thought that there will be no survivor because of the effect of the blast as dark clouds covered every parts of the fueling station with everybody running here and there. We were confused on what to do, while some people were screaming loud, some were making frantic phone calls and the fire service were nowhere to be found”, said Nsikan.
As other eye witnesses recounts, the fire spread wild and deeper desperation set in as passerby’s and residents who watched helplessly as the station continued to burn freely with no sign of rescue from the appropriate authorities, the people cursed silently.
After about twenty minutes, construction giant, Julius Berger, JB, was said to have arrived with a tanker load of water but their efforts had no effect on the fire especially after three tankers load of water were exhausted.
Speaking to our reporter, a middle age lady who identified herself as Utibe said that they were all waiting and watching apprehensively to see when the fire service would come to rescue but when they sighted Julius Berger, they all screamed, thinking respite had come since JB was an international construction company that could be trusted to undertake any given or specific task but “our optimism was cut short because we forgot that Julius Berger was just a construction company and that firefighting was different from the construction of roads or houses.”
Utibe continued further: “after Julius Berger first, second and third water tankers finished pouring water on the fire, the company were exhausted because it seems as if the more they poured water on the fire, the more the fire razed the station, then Julius Berger quickly packed up and left. So when they left, you can imagine the faces of people who had hoped that Julius Berger could deal with the fire, we were now frustrated and assumed the worst”.
As more than a thousand people continue to gather to watch the inferno, many people were angered that the fire service who were responsible for quelling fire were nowhere to be found, expressed resentment on the fire service and they planned to frustrate them if they arrive after the fire would have been contained.
However, the situation was said to have changed when men of the Akwa Ibom state Fire Service arrived the scene forty minutes later with a fire engine led by the Acting Director Mr. Ubong Bassey Umoh.
The firefighters who were escorted to the place by men of the Nigerian Police immediately went to work. They were said to have battled the fire for several hours before putting the fire out.
When asked why it took the fire fighters more than thirty minutes to arrive the scene, a firefighter who did not want his name on print narrated that they had a similar fire outbreak at the dump site along Uyo village road where they went to contain the fire and as they headed back to the office, they received a report that a filling station at Mbierebe Obio was on fire.
He explained: “There was a fire outbreak at Uyo village road where we went to quell the fire and as we head back to our office at Dominic Etuk avenue, we were informed that fire was gutting a filling station at Mbierebe, so we had to quickly move back to the office to refill our engine and head straight to GWT however, we encountered some difficulties at the office. I don’t know if you are aware, we do not have enough fire appliances so we had to make use of what we have. When we got to the office, there were no electricity to pump water and our generator was in bad shape. Our director had to take swift pecuniary measures to ensure we use the generator and pump water into the engine before we moved straight to Mbierebe.”
Continuing the firefighter said: “You know there are procedures to follow when doing these things and it takes time that was why we didn’t appear immediately the GWT fire incident started. If we had enough functioning fire engines, there would have been no need to refill as we would have already filled them in anticipation for any emergency, we would head there straight and not refill. But like I said before we had to make do with what we have,” he concluded.
Another firefighter who gave his name as Mr. Nice said that irrespective of the insufficient fire appliances in the service, they have been geared up for service delivery stating that the effectiveness of any government establishment depends to a large extent on who head’s the department.
He noted that the acting director of the service, Mr. Umoh who was recently appointed to head the service exhibited an uncommon passion, courage and zeal to service which culminated to results in recent fire outbreaks.
“Our newly appointed Director has shown uncommon commitment to ensure that the service takes its pride as a dependable emergency response unit for the public. Even though the service is not sufficiently funded but our new director has made it a point of emphasis that we should work with what is available for now and be dedicated and prepared for any emergency. Unlike what happens in the past, we were surprised that he led the initiative to ensure we contained and stop the fire at GWT which was almost extending to the residential areas”.
“There is no one that will not be motivated to work harder when he sees his boss on the frontline leading by example. That is the motivation we got seeing Mr. Ubong leading us to quell the fire. We are proud to have a director that can sacrifice everything to get work done. Our successes of last weekend cannot be completed without the mention of his input and if we can achieve what we did without enough appliances, I begin to imagine how prompt and effective we would be when we get all the necessary appliances and motivation,” he concluded.
Meanwhile residents of MberebeObio have commended the firefighters and governor Udom Emmanuel for service in the state. They noted the level of professionalism displayed by the firefighters immediately they arrived the scene and how they zealously battled for hours to put the fire out.
A resident, Mr. IniamaUmanah noted that: “we never gave the fire fighters a chance when we saw them arrived the scene of the fire a bit late. Our thinking was that if Julius Berger an international company could be exhausted by the inferno to make them depart prematurely, then the fire service was coming to fulfil all righteousness but we were wrong, as the fire service showed that there are differences between road constructions and fighting fires and that one organization cannot do the job of the other. I learnt the governor just appointed the director that led the firemen. The governor has done well to put a square peg in a square hole, ”he summed.
For Ms Utibe, she was full of praises for the firefighters. She said: “the fire service did so well to stop the fire today. I saw wonders with my two eyes that water is different from water because while the Julius Berger water was making the fire to increase, the fire service water was reducing the effect of the water till it quenched it. I leant that the fire service does not have enough equipment, I trust the governor that he would provide them with equipment because he loves us and wants the best for Akwa Ibom people.”
In a related development, the state governor has been called upon to look into the issue of funding and allocation to the Akwa Ibom Fire Service for it to be proactive.
Mentioning the need for safety at all times, Mr. Aniedi Osom a Public Affairs commentator urged the governor to do all that is possible to equip the service with every necessary fire appliances because fire disasters constitutes 65 per cent of loss of lives and properties in Nigeria and 55 per cent in other parts of the world. He observed that: “the health of a people is important, because when the people or government facilities are consumed by fire, it can lead to huge manpower and economic loss which could take the state backwards, hence the need for prompt investment in that area.”
Though, feelers has it that the state government has made ventures into acquiring fire appliances after the acting director revealed during the 2018 budget defense that the Akwa Ibom State fire has been on Zero Allocation for three years, what is rather unknown is when those appliances will arrive the state.
Our reporter tried to pull a call to the commissioner for Information to inquire of the true state of the matter but he was unable to reach him at as press time. But unconfirmed sources has it that the governor has directed that the fire service be equipped to serve the public better.
For now one can only say that what would have been a calamitous situation was on Friday, January 26th averted by the gallant men of the Akwa Ibom Fire Service led by their director Mr. Umoh.