For a nation to run more efficiently, its institutions must discharge their mandate to the optimum, with a high sense of professionalism, thus strong institutions are the pivot around which the development agenda of any country revolves.
However, having effective institutions goes beyond buildings, it takes relevant skilled human resources and tools, equipment, and machinery to achieve this.
In Ghana, many institutions and agencies are often unable to perform to their optimum efficiency due to the failure of successive governments to equip them with the requisite logistics to effectively fulfil their mandate.
The Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) is no exception to that situation; however, it is also farfetched to expect the government to be in the position to provide everything a state institution needs, due to mounting pressures on the nation’s purse.
That notwithstanding, the state should be able to significantly retool institutions to enable them to function optimally.
Established under Act 219 to extinguish fires and provide humanitarian services, the GNFS was re-established by Act 537 in 1997, with a broad objective of prevention and management of undesired fires and other related matters including rescue work in addition to their mandate of the firefighting enterprise.
That includes the inspection of high-rise and commercial buildings equipped with the necessary fire engineering, to organise and educate the public on the hazards of fire, road traffic extrication and other related activities.
Unfortunately, the service is bedevilled with many challenges which are hindering its smooth operations. For instance, one of the relevant tools critical to the fire fighting enterprise is the fire hydrant.
A fire hydrant is a connection point, where firefighters tap into for water to refill fire engines.
Hydrants, which come as either underground ones or above-ground pillar-type, are a critical component in the firefighting business.
According to statistics from the GNFS, there are 1,622 fire hydrants across the country. Out of that number, only 911 are functioning while 711, for various reasons, are unserviceable.
According to the service, some have been sealed by the Ghana Water Company, others have been locked by the police while many have been encroached upon by developers.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the GNFS, Assistant Chief Fire Officer (ACFO), Timothy Osafo Affum, said in a situation of a fire, the absence of the hydrants has compelled fire officers to trek distances to refill the fire engines to quell infernos.
For effective delivery of their service, Mr Affum suggested that there should be a government policy geared towards overhauling all fire equipment every 10 years.
“The international standard is five years, but looking at the country’s financial situation, at least 10 years should be enough for us to change our equipment so that we will be abreast of best standards,” he said.
For instance, he said the last time the government supplied new fire engines to the service was in 2011.
Although he could not give a vivid detail of how many of the fire engines were functioning, Mr Affum said many had broken down while some were old.
No insurance policy
In spite of the risks in fighting fires, he disclosed that there was no special insurance cover for personnel; additionally, there was no free medical treatment when injured in the line of duty.
Although most of the personnel had registered for the National Health Insurance Scheme, in situations where illnesses were not covered by the scheme, fire personnel had to foot the health bill themselves.
“The service sometimes endeavours to pay medical bills of personnel, but we are constrained and are unable to pay all, so we normally consider those in critical conditions,” he said.
There was also no special treatment of families after the death of a firefighter in the line of duty.