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IMANI got it Wrong on Fire Service

Bright Simons of IMANI-Ghana

Bright Simons of IMANI-Ghana

There was a recent report captioned: “Fire Service, DVLA make IMANI’s five most Inspirational Public Sector Leaders’ in Ghana”. In the report, IMANI Ghana claimed to have expended so much energy, time and effort on scrutinizing the works of public sector institutions like the Ghana Fire Service on their current development which is contrary to some other observers, who believe that a significant transformation of this country can be possible without a root, stem and branch overhaul of the public sector.

I have read the IMANI report several times trying to find the exact tangible reasons as to why the IMANI Ghana decided to shower praises on Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) in particular, but unfortunately, the reasons I found in their preamble was that, they considered praising the institutions to serve as a means to motivate them to perform better; a reason which I think is totally wrong considering the core duties and professional performance required of our Fire Service. Though it is true that basic human psychology provides that scrutiny and criticism alone are not sufficient springs of good conduct, “Measured and purposeful praises” serve as the most powerful tool to motivate those on the right path, a means to shine a light on positive developments to erect powerful role models for the guidance of the rest of society, and to serve as a sharp contrast to behaviours considered unmeritorious to progress. The contrary is what IMANI has done, hence the question: do we really need to praise mis-performing people and institutions just because we think praising them may motivate them to perform?

The causes of Fire and the measures to control the fires are the most important subject areas in any Health and Safety Management System in any serious country, yet comment on this highly significant area of Fire Control Service duties in terms of drafting policies and programs to help ascertain and curb the recent spate of overwhelming rampant fire outbreaks in Ghana was visibly missing in the IMANI’s report.

 

Fire outbreak is potentially the most serious hazard that Ghana faces at the moment. In the past four years, we have all witnessed the rate of fire outbreak and the magnitude of damage to lives and property far outweighing any other hazard in Ghana. It is paramount to know that amongst the main duties of the GNFS is to continually identify specific fire hazards in the communities and to suggest and direct appropriate control measures that Government and institutions can adopt to reduce any risk of fire outbreak; including such things as the design features, systems or equipment in buildings and other structures to reduce any danger to persons and property by detecting, extinguishing or containing fires. These are the areas some of us would have expected IMANI Ghana to have concentrated their search and scrutiny of the Ghana Fire Service and also to see if there has been any introduction of design features like recommendations and introduction of Fire Sprinkler Systems, the use of Hose reels, the use of Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus (VESDA) systems, Fire Suppression Systems, Smoke Detections Heads, Conventional Fire Alarm systems, Fire Beam Sensors and others. All these are life-saving systems but there’s absolutely no improvement in any of these areas in Ghana.

Part of the IMANI’s reasons for showering praises on GNFS was that: “Despite persisting weaknesses in Ghana’s fire management system, frontline staff of the Ghana National Fire Service continue to risk their lives daily to fight the infernos raging across Ghana in sharp succession. With limited gear and equipment, despite recent additions to the stock, personnel of the Ghana National Fire Service have increasingly shown a regimental discipline in taking on mighty blazes, all the more difficult to manage because of the tropical heat unlike what was the case some years ago. Response times are almost within acceptable limits for a good proportion of incidents reported.”

This is quite unfortunate and frivolous way of reasoning for an organisation like IMANI if they should praise workers for merely carrying out their normal duties at work with the known risks involved before taking up the job. Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for IMANI to compare how many fire outbreaks the Ghana Fire Service has been able to stop or controlled to save property or lives? The answer to having been successful to professionally performing any extinguishing duty-calls is nil therefore in their report, in any case, what is the essence of the Fire Service response times if it is within almost acceptable limits for a good proportion of incidents if they do not produce the needed results??

Within the last four years, Ex-Prez Rawlings’ house, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tema Oil Refinery, the Ministry of Information, Kantamanto Market and the recent burning of Makola No.2 Market have been victims of fire outbreaks. Out of non-professional perfunctory service to the nation, in all these outbreaks the GNFS has not been able to produce any tangible conclusive investigative reports to help Ghanaians ascertain the causes of all these fires. Instead, GNFS officials have chosen rather to blame arsonists for causing the fires just to divert the public attention and mindfulness from their core responsibilities. The Director of Public Affairs at the Ghana National Fire Service, Ellis Oko Robison was report by Citi news to have said “a joint Police and Fire Service task force has just been set up to smoke out the culprits. This suggests that there are some specific suspects in mind of whom they have never had a clue for the past fours.

It may be recalled that on the 14th of February 2010, ex-President Rawlings’ Ridge residence was burnt, sparking huge controversy with some critics accusing him of torching his own house. A committee from GNFS which was set up to investigate the cause of the fire released its report in May 2010, but the report failed to establish the cause of the fire. Mr. Sam Sowah Oblejumah, Head of Public Relations at the GNFS, told Joy FM that “the committee after its investigations could not technically pinpoint the cause of the fire, but suspected power fluctuation.” That was all, three years after the fire, no Ghanaian has any clue as to what caused fire in Mr Rawlings’ house. Should the GNFS be praised for such unprofessionalism at work?

The performance of the technical team of the GNFS is so worrying to the point that the Gov’t now seeks help from USA to unravel the causes of fire outbreaks in Ghana. President John Mahama recently announced that his government has invited experts from the US to help unravel the many fire outbreaks that burnt some markets.

Clearly, the GNFS contributions in helping to educate the ordinary people of Ghana on common causes of fire and fire safety at workplaces have been extremely poor. Where in Ghana have we can we see any comprehensive public educational policy, if any, on the following: Electricity-the neglect and misuse of wiring and electrical appliances; Refuse/rubbish accumulating in work/storage areas; Hazardous goods-including materials such as paints, adhesives or other chemicals; Arson – by impish children and adult fire raisers facilitated by ineffectively secured buildings; Specific hazards– setting fire to market places, use of stoves at boarding houses, machinery in dusty environments, heated equipment (e.g. soldering irons, portable water heaters), blow lamps, cutting and welding equipment, flammable liquids.

I would recommend that Ghana gov’t adopts and ensures the independence of Health and Safety Executive & Health and Safety Commission to institute stringent and rigorous binding measures to enforce aspects of health and safety everywhere in Ghana. Inspectors should be appointed by the Health and Safety Executive or local authorities to have wide-ranging of powers which should include entry and search on premises with or without notice, take samples of articles or substances found on the premises, assess fire alarm systems, interview any person, and destroy any substance or articles that they consider to pose imminent danger, cause fire or personal injury. They may also issue formal Improvement, Prohibition Notices or close down premises deemed to be problematic or posses’ fire hazards. 

Peter Antwi Boasiako

London. Tel: 07950388567

ptrantwi.boasiako@gmail.com

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