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A day in the life of the fire-fighter

Published by The Nation on Sun, 23 Feb 2020


Fire-fighters are not called into action everyday. But when their attention is required, its always a time full of drama. Assistant Editor YETUNDE OLADEINDE gets some servicing and retired fire-fighters to recount some of their unforgettable experiences.Fire accidents occur all the time. It is usually unforeseen and could be very fierce, consuming and lethal. But there are some professionals, whose responsibility it is to respond, however unexpected. This group of people think and dream fire twenty-four hours; and it does not matter whether they just got into bed, are about having a meal or personal calamity just befell them. Sometimes, they even become casualties; but like they saya job is a job. Welcome to the unpredictable world of fire-fighters.The good, the bad and the uglyThat old movie title aptly captures the experience of Oriola Soyede, who has put in about 26 years in the job. A jolly good fellow by nature, Soyede has moved around the fire service sector quite well, working in so many stations and departments in Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the country.I started from Operations, moved to the Workshop, where we serviced the vehicles; next I went to the training school as Instructor, Security and Transport Department.Now back in Operations, Soyede says, One memorable experience for me would be while I was serving at Awolowo Road, Ikoyi Fire Station. We got a call; it was the case of a popular female pilot, who lived alone because her family lived in London. She had come on holiday and the male chef and driver connived to kill her. They strangled her while she was cooking in the kitchen, broke a part of the soak-away pit, threw her in there and sealed it up with cement. The investigation officer was very young and didnt quite know what to do. Then he called someone with experience and he advised them to check the soak-away.It was broken and they saw the womans lifeless body there. That was when they called us. We got there and it was a very emotional scene, as everyone was crying. It was the fire service men that removed the womans body from the septic tank.That must have been a tough assignment. How did they rise up to the challenge' We have been trained to save human life and properties. We just had to do it. When we retrieved the body, the hospital people took over. He replied, almost dismissively.Another memorable experience on the job for Oriola was a fire incident that happened on a seven-storey building on Burma Road, Apapa.Whilst we were fighting the fire, all of a sudden I predicted that the building was going to come down. I told my people to come down and we went in another direction to fight the fire. Area boys however stormed the place; all along, they had not given us enough space to work. Along the line, the area boys hijacked a branch from one of our men and I told him to leave it for them.People were running in different directions, looting the office complex. They had different types of generators and the area boys were carting away goods, pretending to be helping. Within a twinkle of an eye, an air-conditioner fell, exploded and landed on top of one of the area boys. He died instantly, while the man who was holding the hose had a slight cut on his arm.That was a real close shave for Oriola and his men. Like a cat with nine lives, they have survived several such odds, unlike some of their colleagues who were not so lucky. Sometimes, you go to volatile areas like Mushin, Idi-Araba or Itire and you see miscreants all over the place. The truth of the matter is that it takes time to receive a call from our control room and more to turn up. But usually they dont want to understand this. Sometimes, they would be throwing stones at us and we may have to try to save our own lives. So, everyone would just run away.Akpokhiya Kabirus journey into fire service is an offshoot of his parents opposition to his original lovethe police force.I wanted to join the police initially but my parents refused because they didnt quite like the idea. I had an uncle who was a director in the Fire Service and he gave me an option of joining the service in Lagos. I have been working for 34 years at the Surulere Fire Station.Recalling how it all started after his four months basic course at the training school, Akpokhiya said, I started with zeal and determination to do the job. My salary then was N140 a month and it was good money. We used to buy a tin of garri for N5 and I used to spend about N100 taking care of my parents and younger siblings, while I saved about N40. It was easy to save then.Going down memory lane, Akpokhiya said, The day I finished from the training school and was posted to the station, we had a rescue operation at Ijora Crossing. A fully-loaded 911 Molue went into a moving train and it was crushed. It was a fatal accidenta gory sight to behold. Almost all the passengers on board were victims.He continued: I was in a bus when my boss asked me to carry somebody whose body had been cut into two. It was my very first experience and I was soaked in blood. But the courage as well as obedience to our superior officers motivated me to carry out the task. Since that day, I have been emboldened; my courage and determination went to a higher dimension.There was another rescue operation at Bode Thomas. That day, we were able to save a lot of hard currency from the scene of call. For the active role I played, a report came in my name to our headquarters in Abuja and I was called to be presented as the best Fire Fighter of the year in 2000.Twenty years after, you want to know what the award meant to him and he replied this way: I went to Abuja and had a honourable handshake with the minister, then Alhaji Lateef Jakande. I was also given a cash gift and a colour television. At that time, coloured TV was new and my children were excited.What about the hazards' You ask. There used to be a lot of building collapse during fire incidents and we go to our operations with the mind of salvaging lives and properties without any hidden agenda. So, God is always saving our lives.He recalled a close shave and how he survived. I remember the day a framed glass fell on my head and I had this deep cut at the back of my head. I was rushed to the hospital and was on admission for about two weeks. Apart from that, I havent encountered any serious hazard on the job.Asked if the Fire Service has the necessary tools to work with, Akpokhiya said: Yes. We used to have problems of facilities to work with but this present administration has done a lot and we dont have problems with that.The discussions moved to the recent fire incident at Amu market, Mushin and the complaints that they came with half tank of water, and he responds: That is a very wrong impression because we normally check the level of our tanks and hand over full tanks. As you go out, the more you discharge, the more the water would go down. The problem we have is that there are no places to refill the tanks on time. Usually, we have to go all the way to Breweries, Ijora or come down to our station here to refill the tank.One other major challenge that hinders their work, according to Akpokhiya is traffic. In Nigeria, people disobey sirens. It is not like that in the western world. We also have the challenge of not properly presenting the address of the scene. Someone would call and just tell you there is fire in Mushin, without giving you the address, and then you end up going round and round before locating the scene.You wonder what goes on in the minds of their wives and children each time they go out and he recalls some of their anxieties and more. The interesting thing is that many of our wives are also joining the fire service. So, you have a number of families where the husband, wife and children are in the profession.Just before he goes, Kabiru tells you about some of the enlightenment done to inform members of the public on how they can be reached. Our numbers are usually written on the body of our vehicles and there are opportunities for young people who want to come in. To them I would say, prepare your mind for the zeal of fire fighting because there is reward for what you do. Apart from the salary, the fact that you are helping your endangered neighbour makes it a patriotic job.Henry Osarewa who hails from Edo state is one of such examples. I have been working as a fire fighter for about 27 years and I should retire by 2024. My elder brother who introduced me to the fire service also retired from the profession. Interestingly, I didnt like the job initially. The money was just too small but somehow my people convinced me. When I got in, I discovered that it was good, one of the best jobs. There is no corruption in the Fire Service; I would advise anyone looking for job for their children to put them in the fire service. Things are getting better and the money is coming up.Recalling some of his memorable experience, Henry said, My very first operation was in 2004. That was the fire at the 17-floor UBA headquarters in Marina. It was burning underground. When we got there, the man that I was following was my brothers friend. He asked me to follow him because I had no experience. We went underground and saw four generators in flames. We were putting them off, one after the other.Unfortunately, the flames had claimed a ladys life when we got there. We had to first bring her out. Then the Airport department had great equipment and they brought their helicopters but they couldnt land.The smoke, he recalled was just too much and the flames covered the whole building. My boss asked me to give him the slack and as we were laying it, he was moving ahead of me. If you are in an enclosed environment, you dont stand when you are fighting fire.He said some of the hazards from fire incidents include chemicals and in those days, the gadgets required werent available. But now, our boss, Mr Liman, from Niger State is giving us the best. We have more vehicles. You have to be smart and vigilant on the job. Even while wearing your boots, you can step on a long nail and you will have to remove your boot quickly.For Choice Ojoko, a female fire fighter, it is the best job ever. I would say that it is a wonderful job and the experience has been great with a focus on humanitarian service to others. You render your service to everyone and restore hope.Ojoko who has been on the job for 26 years, says, Its been very interesting and like every other job, you have the good, bad, sweet and bitter sides.Going down memory lane, she said, I was at the fire incident at NNPC, Falomo some years back. It was a terrible experience. On that fateful day, a glass fell on one of my senior colleagues. I must say though that every job is like that. Its a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes, the world itself is a risk.Ojoko continued: I am proud to be a fire fighter, I am proud of my job, no matter the challenge. Going out, going to the market or anywhere is a risk. So, I usually put everything in the hand of God. It is God that gives and takes. But we pray for better things to come our way.New men on the blockA number of young people have been joining the fire service. One of them is Adeoye Mubashiru, who is about rounding off his training at the training school. It is a safety job and I see a great future ahead for me and my other colleagues. My brother is also a fire fighter and he motivated me to join. I just joined the service last year, in July and we are still doing our IT. Our commissioning comes up in February 2020.I almost quit at trainingformer Head of ServiceRasaki Musibau from Omojoda Odo Ayan in Epe joined the Lagos Fire Service on July 2nd 1984 and served for 35 years.Recalling his years of service, he said, I have so many unforgettable memories. This includes the rigorous 6 months basic fireman training, rigorous fire drills, inter station, drills activities aimed at preparing firemen for various fire and rescue operations.He singled out completing his training as one of his interesting memories. Another is the day I took over the mantle of Leadership as Head of Service. My first operation was a rescue operation at Ojodu, where a man fell into a deep well of about 120 feet and we rescued him alive. I was particularly happy to be part of the team that responded to that call and I saw my interest of joining the Fire Service being fulfilled.At that time, rescue operations were performed with crude methods because of lack of modern rescue equipment.Somehow, he recalled that he felt like quitting when the training became too rigorous. But the fact that female trainees were coping made him summon courage to continue and complete the training.I served in most sections of the Fire Service like Operations, Training School as instructor, Fire Prevention, Project Office as Project Officer and Admin, before my glorious exit as Director and Head of Fire Service.
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