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Firefighting under seige: 44% Fire hydrants obsolete - Traders, developers render others non-functional

BY: Joshua Bediako Koomson
Firefighting under seige: 44% Fire hydrants obsolete - Traders, developers render others non-functional

A number of fire hydrants across the country have been blocked by human activities while others have been covered by refuse, weeds and sand.

Statistics available put the number of hydrants across the country at 1,622.

However, 44 per cent of them are unserviceable and obsolete, while 711 are operational.

Many of the hydrants the Daily Graphic sighted in Accra, Kumasi and Koforidua were blocked by traders and developers, with others covered by sand, weeds and refuse.

Some of the hydrants have also been sealed by the Ghana Water Company Ltd (GWCL) due to leakages, while others have been locked by the police due to the danger they pose to the public.

Though most fi re hydrants are identified by their stand-out red nozzles and are supposed to be easily accessible in case of emergency, the situation is different in many areas.

GNFS confirms

The Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) confirmed the observation to the Daily Graphic, indicating that it was a disincentive to firefighting across the country.

Within the Central Business District (CBD) of Accra, the Daily Graphic counted 13 hydrants at various vantage points.

Although they were all serviceable, only seven of them were functioning effectively, while the remaining six had low pressure.

The functioning hydrants were on the premises of the Accra City Fire Station, Farisco, in Adabraka, Okaishie Drug Lane, Globe Cinema; Ridge, near former President John Rawlings’ Residence, the State House, and around the GWCL offices at the Ministries.

Those with low pressure were at the Merchant Bank in Okaishie, the Okaishe Drug Lane, Mokola No.2, Accra High School, the Ghana Law School and the National Theatre.

Regional breakdown

The Accra Region of the GNFS currently has 295 hydrants out of which 168 were serviceable and 127 were not serviceable.

Out of the 337 fi re hydrants in Tema, 190 are operational, while 147 are not functional. In the Ashanti Region there are 222 hydrants of which 123 are not working; the Volta Region has 72 fire hydrants, with 32 serviceable and 40 not serviceable.

For the Eastern Region, there are 125 hydrants, with 72 operational and 53 not functioning, while the Oti Region has 10 fi re hydrants, with six functional and four not serviceable.

The five regions of the north — Northern, Savanna, Upper East, Upper West and the North East — have 74 hydrants in all, with 45 functioning and 24 not serviceable.

The Western and the Western North regions jointly have 206 fi re hydrants, with 137 working and 72 not functional, while Bono, Bono East and the Ahafo regions jointly have 120 hydrants, out of which 43 of them are functioning.

Challenges

The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the GNFS, Assistant Chief Fire Officer (ACFO) Timothy Osafo Affum, said in the event of a fire incident, the absence of the hydrants would compel fire engines to move to far distances to refill.

To address the challenge, ACFO Affum said the service was considering the construction of mechanised boreholes to replace the hydrants.

Currently, he said, the service was holding discussions with the GWCL for assistance in that regard.

GWCL perspective

The Communications Manager of the GWCL, Stanley Martey, said most of the hydrants were sealed because some unscrupulous persons were misusing the water in them.

He alleged that some personnel of the GNFS commercialised the water by selling them to private individuals.

“Particularly the one in front of the Vice-President’s residence, I use to see private tankers as well as the fire engines from the GNFS line up at the place to siphon the water from the hydrants, so we decided to seal it because it is not right to leave it for people to abuse,” Mr Martey said.

When the GWCL realised that the issue was becoming rampant, he said the company metered some of the hydrants to enable it to determine the volume of water that was being siphoned from them.

“Because of that, the personnel stopped using it. For instance, we metered the fire hydrants at the GNFS Headquarters and because of that they’ve stopped using it,” he stated.

Mr Martey also said there were others which were not operational due to the current water situation in the country.

He explained that those ones were located in areas where the water pressure was low and it was diffi cult for the personnel to access enough to use during fire situations.

Mr Martey said there were some which had been encroached upon, thus, making them inaccessible.

“But it’s not within our mandate to go and demolish structures. It’s the assemblies who are supposed to do so; ours is to make sure we provide water for the hydrants,” he said.

Periodically, he said, the GWCL did some maintenance works on them based on the report it received from the GNFS.

Already, the GWCL Communications Manager said, the management of the company had visited other countries to see how they managed their water systems and they realised there were more innovative ways to build the hydrants.

He said the company was considering all the available options and very soon, it would collaborate with the GNFS to address the situation conclusively.

Boreholes will do

The Ashanti Regional Commander of the GNFS, Assistant Chief Fire Officer (ACFO) Henry Giwah, who spoke to Daily Graphic in Kumasi, said Greater Kumasi had only 54 functional hydrants but a considerable number had been invaded by squatters, traders and other artisans, reports Emmanuel Baah.

He described the situation as disturbing, given the devastating nature of fire outbreaks and suggested that in the absence of hydrants, mechanised boreholes would serve as a good substitute.

“The most important thing in firefighting is easy access to water, and since the hydrants are not adequate, it will be worthwhile considering mechanised boreholes.”

“I, therefore, would like to appeal to Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCES), corporate bodies and households to drill boreholes at vantage points and within their premises to serve as a reliable source of water in case of fire emergencies,” he said.

He said a recent fact-finding mission by his outfit, an exercise supported by the Regional Security Council (REGSEC) and Ghana GWCL, brought the issue to the fore and already it was receiving the needed attention, as the authorities had begun evicting squatters to enhance effective functioning of the hydrants.

ACFO Giwah lauded the GWCL for recently providing the Kumasi Metropolis with 20 additional hydrants, which he admitted, had impacted positively in fi ghting fire in the metropolis.

Taking a look at personal protective equipment (PPE), the GNFS PRO noted that they were crucial in firefighting but only a few were currently available for personnel to use.

Under normal circumstances, he said, every officer was supposed to have his or her own personal apparel and other protective gear for firefighting.

In the past, he said the service had breathing apparatus plants in the form of cylinders for firefighting.

He explained that the plants provided firefighters with fresh air in any unfavourable environment.

Currently, Mr Affum said the plants had expired and as a result, most of the firefighters were now fighting fires without such gadgets.

However, for those in Tema and Accra, there were other allied firefighting institutions and companies that were helping them in filling their cylinders.

He said the challenge was that when the air in the cylinder was exhausted, the personnel had to go and re-negotiate for a refill, which sometimes took a lot of time.

No insurance policy

In spite of the risk, he disclosed that there was no special insurance cover for the personnel to access free medical treatment in case they were injured in the line of duty.

Although most of the personnel are registered on the National Health Insurance Scheme, ACFO Affum said in situations where their ailment was not covered by the scheme, they had to foot the bills themselves.

“Our men are not too happy about this because if they should enter into a fire incident and die as a result, it means their families are going to suffer,” ACFO Affum stated.