By Amos Aar
DIRECTOR, Benue State Fire Service Department, Engr. Donald Ikyaaza Wakwagh, has asked the Benue State government to beef up the department’s staff strength and provide it with relevant equipment to enhance efficiency and productivity.
Speaking with newsmen in his office last week, Engr. Wakwagh said: “We have one hundred and ninety-two staff which are grossly inadequate; we are not enough. The operation of fire service is such that you need about three shifts and each shift has about four personnel on it. As it is now, we don’t have enough drivers.
“Even at Gboko station, they are always calling on me to send drivers there, send workmen that they are not enough to operate. Even at the headquarters here, we don’t have enough drivers and we don’t have enough firemen to fight fire. It’s a tedious job. In an ideal situation, you don’t expect a driver to be on duty throughout, at least he will be there for three days and be off to rest and attend to his family. But in this case now, all the drivers are always on duty. The worst case is with drivers; the other firemen we are managing go on shift but drivers don’t have shift at all,” Wakwagh stated.
He further added: “Before I came here, I was told that government was going to employ more firemen and even other engineers to meet me here, and even when I assumed office, I was told we were going to do employment. But up till now, that is not done.
“You can also see that the vehicles we have here are old ones. They are not even modern type of vehicles and since they were acquired for a long time, breakdown is very rampant now. If you see a particular vehicle now, go round and you will discover that all the vehicles are having the same problem because they were purchased at the same time and their lifespan is the same.
“So, we are having challenge of equipment. You will see my firemen in the field without protective equipment: no fireproof jackets, no reflective jackets, no boots, no head wears and this is dangerous. If you see us in the field, we are always there with the Federal Fire Service and you will see the Federal Fire Service in their fire fighting attires. But you will not see my men with it, some of them will be in their slippers and I bet you that those who died at Ahumbe, if they were in fireproof jackets, that wouldn’t have happened. It’s a jacket that even if you enter into fire with it, nothing will happen.
Engr. Wakwagh disclosed that the Fire Service headquarters has been relocated to Industrial Layout, Makurdi and that before they moved to the new site, they went round and informed people but wondered why many people still go to Barracks Road, Makurdi to look for them whenever there was an outbreak of fire and in the course of trying to locate firemen, the fire consumes everything.
“I don’t know why government has lukewarm attitude towards this type of thing! The jacket that should protect lives, even if they are not doing any other thing, they should provide jackets,” Engr. Wakwagh said, while also complaining about the paucity of funds which he said was hindering the department’s operations. He lamented that sometimes, he would be given ninety thousand naira (N90,000) only to fuel the vehicles which according to him is not enough.
“The last incident that happened close to Ahumbe that I told you about in which the driver lost his life, we didn’t have diesel, we had to rush to one of the filling stations. They gave us N10,000 diesel which we added to the little one we had. I have not paid them that N10,000; I am waiting on them to give me the money.
“We don’t have a chunk of money here as a Fire Service Department that when we have a problem we can run to. Ordinarily, during the weekends, I am supposed to be given something to handle emergency cases at least N150,000, N120,000 or N50,000, but there is nothing like that. Anytime they are to give me money, I have to write to the Permanent Secretary to get it to the governor. Until the Permanent Secretary gets approval, no money will be released. We have not serviced these vehicles since last year, the batteries are weak. For many months now, we have found it very difficult to operate.
“The officer in charge of Gboko station recently ran to Makurdi that he was not going back until those things are sorted out because if there is fire incident and he cannot do something about it, the affected people may pounce on him and kill him,” Engr. Wakwagh said.