Responding to emergency fire outbreaks in homes

Friday, January 8th, 2021 00:00 |
Francis Omolo Liech,

An accidental inferno can spread uncontrollably in seconds.They are a leading cause injury and death in homes. Fire expert and Kenya National Fire Brigades Association (Kenfiba) secretary general Francis Omolo Liech tells us more.

Milliam Murigi @MillyMur1

What are the possible causes of fires in homes? 

Fires can be started in a number of ways, but they generally fall into one of two categories: fires caused by heat igniting combustible materials, and those caused by chemical reactions.

Any home is full of objects and materials that can combust under the right conditions.

Some of the common causes of house fires, such as cooking related fires, electrical fires, heating appliances and smoking are familiar to everyone, while others may surprise you.

Identifying and lowering these risks help you lower your chance of house fire, keeping your family and property safer.

Talking of fire causes that can surprise someone which ones are you referring to?

Chemical fires in homes. This is because fires caused by chemical reactions are more common in industrial and commercial locations, and most people don’t know that they are also a common cause of home fires.

Residential chemical fires occur most commonly when volatile vapours from gasoline and other petroleum liquids reach a flash-point temperature or when the fumes contact a source of open flame.

Another common type of chemical fire is spontaneous combustion the reaction of chemicals combining with oxygen in the air to produce enough heat to reach a flashpoint and ignite in flame.

Chemical fires of various types cause deaths and serious injuries, while a relatively small number of these are residential fires, they can be, especially deadly because they are so unexpected. 

What should one do when their kitchen suddenly catches a fire? 

Small grease fires can be extinguished quickly by turning off the heat and smothering the fire with a metal lid.

Sprinkling baking soda or salt on the fire will also put it out, as well. A Class-B fire extinguisher (used for flammable liquid and gas fires such as oil, petrol etc) or Class-K fire extinguisher (used on fires involving cooking media (fats, grease, and oils) is also recommended, although the chemicals can create a notable cleanup issue.

With serious fires, make no attempt to put it out. Instead, call the fire department immediately.

Under no circumstances dump water over the grease fire, as this can cause the hot grease to explode and throw burning grease over the area.

How long should a fire engine take once a report has been made?

According to fire service regulation, it is supposed to take five to eight minutes to reach the scene of the incident.

However, this depends on magnitude of fire or any disaster of that kind. In Kenya, this sometimes becomes a dream, because of different reasons, such as road traffic, distance covered, few fire engines, road inaccessibility, manpower shortage, untrained fire fighters among others.

Most of the counties have one or two fire stations, yet in these counties, some have six to 12 sub-counties with no fire station.

To rectify this, Kenfiba has come up with a proposed plan for the counties. For instance, Nairobi county should have 25 Fire Stations with 100 fire engines and 8,000 fire fighters and other counties follow the same sequence. This is yet to be adopted.

Are you (the fire brigade) prepared as a team to handle abrupt fires?

Fire fighters, just like the military are always prepared to do their job and attend to emergencies.

However, to ensure that fire fighters are well prepared there is need for more equipment’s because fires come in different forms, such as oil spill (petrol fires), which cannot be fought with water, this kind of fire will need a foam compound.

For electrical equipment and gas caused fire, this kind is extinguished using dry powder or CO2. Most of the fire brigades in Kenya are lacking these facilities.

What other challenges do you face and what solutions are needed?

Untrained fire fighters is a major challenge we are facing. This is because in Kenya, there is no central fire training college so what fire brigade is seriously lacking is training.

Apart from that manpower, inadequate fire engines and inadequate firefighting equipment is another challenge.

Another big challenge is that Kenyans have been tampering with fire hydrants, the point where fire engine draws water in case the water in the tank gets finished, thus barring fire engines from draw water if need be.

I would like would like to urge the public not to interfering with these facilities.

Very soon we intend to engage the police to arrest those who are engaging in this act making it hard for fire fighters to execute their work properly.

Lastly, fire fighters are frustrated a lot because of the salary they get compared to the load of work they handle. It is not adequate. Also their employment terms lack medical scheme, provision of insurance coverage, overtime payment among other hiccups. 

 Your call to the government?

Our appeal to both the National and County Governments is to give fire fighters the first priority for development to be realised in this country. There is also need to restructure our Fire Brigade or Fire Management in order to attract more investors and tourists.

They should design roads in a way that emergency vehicles should have a special way. This in turn will speed up our response time.

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