The city of Harare recently suffered two unusually big industrial blazes that caused millions of dollars in damage, raising alarm over the fire brigade’s ability to fight fires effectively.
The end of July saw the City being engulfed in smoke as two major businesses went up in flames. On 23 July, the Mashonaland Tobacco Company (MTC) lost large volumes of tobacco after a fire broke out at one of its warehouses. Almost a week later on 29 July, another serious fire was reported at the Glen View Furniture Complex.
These two incidents resulted in many people questioning the efficiency of fire protection services in the City. Harare now has 12 functional fire engines, falling five short of the required 17. Sharon Magodyo, Community Coordinator for Harare Residents Trust (HRT), said that council was clearly lacking in fire safety services and should urgently act in order to save lives and property. “City of Harare has no capacity to deal with major fires since they frequently have no access to water. At MTC the fire went on for several days, which illustrates their failure to cope with these kinds of challenges. At Glen View Furniture Complex they arrived when everything was almost destroyed,” said Magodyo.
Another resident of Harare, Chengetai Manhenga (45) from Newlands, agreed with Magodyo saying that the fire brigade was to blame for serious losses due to its ineffectiveness. “Harare’s Fire Brigade is not effective at all, as they are poorly equipped and always respond too late to fire calls. This has led to unnecessary loss of property caused by fires which could have easily been contained,” alleged Manhenga.
Though the fire brigade has been held responsible in many cases, observers say that most buildings in the city lack functional fire protection systems, posing a serious danger to occupants in the event of fires. According to Harare’s fire by-laws of 1968, public buildings are mandated to have fire protection systems including, fire extinguishers, hose reels, sprinklers, emergency exit points, and fire alarms in place and in good working order.
Harare’s Principal Communications Officer, Michael Chideme, said that though there was a need to upgrade the City’s fire department, Harare’s fire brigade has the capacity to deal with major fires. He added that the problem lay with companies and residents who don’t play their part in fire protection. “Companies should hold regular fire drills so that occupants of buildings know what to do in the event of a fire. Harare Fire Brigade receives and attends to an average of 1,000 emergency calls per year, including general fires, plus road accidents.”
Chideme said that though homes are not mandated by law to have fire protection systems, such as fire extinguishers and fire alarms, residents should take measures to guard against the loss of property due to fire. “Thatched roofed buildings are required to use thatch that has been treated with fire retardant chemicals. We also require residents in peri-urban areas to put fire guards around their properties. Residents should not overload electrical sockets, and we urge those who smoke to do so responsibly to avoid starting fires,” added Chideme.
The city’s fire department however, continues to receive support from other countries as a team of fire fighters from the United Kingdom last month trained City of Harare fire fighters on modern trends in emergency rescue services.
Chief Fire Officer, Mr Sevias Mugava, said the training has improved the division’s emergency preparedness, “The training we have received has improved our effectiveness and efficiencies in dealing with emergencies. It has also boosted the morale amongst the firefighters because if there is equipment they know that they will be able to deliver.”
For effective fire protection on their property, companies and homeowners can engage licensed fire protection companies to service and repair all their fire systems.
Image: A fireman examines the destruction after the devastating fire at MTC in July.
Photo by Chris Shepard