Grim effect of Fire Service and Water Company’s cat and dog feud

BY: By Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

Is a protracted dispute between the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) and the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) to blame for the loss of, doubtless, millions of cedis worth of goods in last Monday’s fire at the Makola Market, in Accra?

So it would seem.

How can fire hydrants remain sealed for decades, as has emerged from the Makola fire accounts, but the GNFS has not been able to resolve this critical impediment to their work?

Unfortunately, there are too many reports and anecdotes about GNFS not being able to put out a fire because of shortage of water.

The following is a summary of a report by the Daily Graphic earlier this week:

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The Ghana National Fire Service has revealed that fire hydrants within the Central Business District of Accra have been sealed since 1992.

Speaking at a press briefing in Accra on (July 6, 2021) the Chief Fire Officer, Edwin Ekow Blankson, said efforts by the GNFS to have the hydrants reopened by the GWCL had proved futile.

Mr. Blankson explained that the hydrants were under the management of the GWCL, and for as long as he could remember, the GNFS had been engaging the GWCL to rectify the challenge without success.

He revealed that the GNFS had a collaboration with a private provider to provide the Service with back-up water in times of crisis; however, on Monday the private provider failed to show up.
(Graphic, July 7, 2021.)

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Incredible that the situation of fire hydrants being “sealed” for nearly 30 years has been allowed to continue so long!

If any emergency water supply points are not functioning, why wouldn’t the GNFS do whatever it takes to ensure that they solve that problem so that they can rely on them when there is a fire outbreak?

Are there no superior authorities that the Service could have sought help from all these years, to intervene in this prolonged quarrel?

This is totally unacceptable!

It appears that, despite the numerous fire outbreaks in Ghana, notably in urban markets, the Fire Service has not factored into their operations a mantra like the Girl Guides Association’s pragmatic, deep motto, ‘Be Prepared’.

I find the explanations and excuses given by the Fire Service simply untenable.

The GNFS and GWCL hydrants-quarrel has been awaiting resolution for too long.

Furthermore, this perplexing situation has a history.

Some seven years ago, this column commented on that issue, abridged as follows:

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The 2014 comment:

At a period in this country when the numerous fire outbreaks, especially in markets, continue to baffle the public, the news that only four of the 150 fire hydrants in Accra are working is frightening.

Significantly, the shocking and incredible July 16 (2014) report in the Ghanaian Times about the hydrants has not been challenged.

Fire hydrants are pipes located in streets to supply water for putting out fires.

In fact, it appears that the problem has been a source of friction between the Ghana National Fire Service and the Ghana Water Company for years.

Yet, evidently, it has not been of enough concern to compel them to fast-track a solution strategy.

Ellis Okoe Robinson, Public Relations Officer of the Fire Service claimed that most of the hydrants have been sealed by the Water Company because they accuse the Fire Service of “commercializing” treated water from the hydrants.

Mr. Robinson refuted the allegation.

He told the Times that although the two organisations have met many times to address the problem, no headway has been made.

However, Michael Agyemang, Chief Public Relations Manager of the GWCL denied the Fire Service accusation.

It’s not the Water Company’s policy to seal fire hydrants, Mr. Agyemang said.

I find the stances of the two public relations practitioners most unhelpful.

While they trade accusations and denials, the taxpayers whose taxes fund their organisations lose out.

(Column of August 8, 2014, ‘A simmering water and fire quarrel’.)

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Back to 2021:

How is it possible that after so many years, the Fire Service has not been able to work out a solution to their cat and dog quarrel with the GWCL when water is a principal, if not THE main, critical requirement for their work?

It’s interesting that after every fire disaster, although the public is assured that there will be an investigation those investigation reports rarely see the light of day.

In June 2013, the then government of President John Mahama even brought in fire investigators from the US to “unravel the mystery surrounding the persistent fire outbreaks in major markets in the capital.”

As far as I know, what the American experts reported to the Government remains as much of a mystery as the cause of the fires still wreaking havoc in our markets.

Where is that report?

I see the very existence of a Fire Service as a depiction of the Girl Guides’ wise motto.

So a Fire Service must remove any obstacles to be able to deliver, proof of their preparedness.

But, obviously, the GNFS were not adequately prepared for fighting the Makola fire on July 5, owing to the blocked hydrants.

Whichever way one looks at it, the inability of the GNFS to solve the problem of non-functioning fire hydrants for almost three decades is an extremely poor reflection on the Fire Service’s successive managements.

The tragic consequences of that deplorable attitude is the millions of hard-earned investment cedis gone up in flames, against the backdrop of the tears and lamentations of the affected Makola traders, not to mention their curses.

It’s beyond belief that all these years neither the GNFS nor the GWCL seems to have appreciated the need to find a solution to the problem because they have a duty to taxpayers – and to the ‘Ghana’ represented by the first word in the name of their organisations.

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