The wave of fire incidents in recent times, claiming precious lives and millions of naira worth of properties in Nigeria and elsewhere, raises global fire safety imperative. It took the razing of the Ochanja market in Onitsha, Anambra state, Nigeria for the government of Anambra state to rise to the critically unsafe inadequacies in her fire emergency response armoury. This lack-proactive approach is not a best practice in a responsible environment. The very sad part is that the fire incident at Onitsha, and indeed other places, which gutted innumerable properties, destroyed life, etched irredeemable imprints on psyches and business, is preventable! Fire incidents continue to pose a serious challenge globally with California and Australia wild Fires almost becoming a yearly metaphor, enigmatic and seemingly intractable!
Is it not instructive that in busy and overcrowded markets and businesses in Nigeria, there is no single fire extinguisher in place? Where there are, they are simply there to fulfil all righteousness. They are either not fit for purpose or no trained personnel to administer the extinguisher in times of need or emergency. Thus, preventable small fires morph into highly calamitous events and continue to cripple businesses and claim lives.
Extinguishers are Fire-specific. This many people do not know. The source of fire is important in choice of extinguishers. For instance, electrically energized fires cannot be safely quenched with water or foam-based extinguishers. They are best quenched with carbon dioxide based for electrical fires of all voltages and dry powder for fires not exceeding 1000 volts source. What causes Fire outbreak?
Fire is a result of Chemical reaction. There must be source of heat, fuel and an oxidizing agent for fire to occur and the elements must be combined in the right proportion. Fire Extinguisher Chemistry is precise and clear-cut, built around the control of these three important elements.
There are five main types of fire extinguishers– Water-based, Foam, Dry Powder, Carbon Dioxide and Wet Chemical-based respectively. Water-based extinguishers have bright red code and are suitable for ordinary combustibles like paper, wood, cloth and the like. Foam-based are coded cream and appropriate for both ordinary combustibles and inflammable liquids. Dry powder, coded blue, is suitable for a wide range of fire sources except domestic fires as from cooking or frying pans. They are also not effective for high-voltage electrical fires above one thousand volts. They can be used for liquid, metal and gaseous fires. Carbon dioxide-based extinguishers have black code and are suitable for flammable liquids and all electrical fires; while wet chemical, labelled yellow, are most effective for domestic fires.
Knowledge of basic fire safety techniques would spare the world costly losses in human life and materials. The various Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations should strive to educate the masses on Fire Safety imperatives. Markets and businesses, offices and public places, private and public vehicles, should as a matter of minimum standards have basic fire extinguishers and trained personnel in place. There should be Fire Services stations not only in the capital areas of various states but also satellite towns and communities. Emergency Response drills would keep Fire personnel on the cutting edge and prevent the kind of lack-lustre and lack-proactive response that aided the fire incident at Ochanja market and elsewhere.
Ugwuoha is a Chemical Engr. and Public Affairs Analyst writes from Egbema, South East Nigeria