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Counting The Cost of Fire Disasters

The horrific fire that gutted the four-storey business house in the Johanssen community at the commercial district of Waterside last week Wednesday, 24 April dealt a deadly blow not only to human lives, but the economy, including personal properties. The unfortunate incident is the most shocking occurrence in recent times that has immediately claimed the attention of the Government of Liberia, the business community as well as residents of the affected community due to the physical, emotional and psychological pains it inflicted.

Official report put the number of death at four, including two personnel of the National Fire Service of Liberia plus numerous injuries, while dozen others were trapped under the collapsed building, said to be the family home of the Fouani Brothers, a local business group. However, other sources believed the death toil was more, estimating 20.   

The building was reportedly used for multipurpose – as a warehouse for packaging and refilling powder soap and commercial oxygen, a showroom with an inventory of brand new vehicles, furniture, electrical appliances and other valuable items,  all estimated at several millions of United States dollars.

The cause of the fire has not been disclosed, but Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, who was accompanied on the scene last Thursday by Liberia’s Attorney General and Justice Minister Christiana Tah, expressed grave concern for the damages sustained in the Fouani Brothers’ fire disaster in Monrovia, and has described the incident as a “very serious disaster affecting the country’s economy.” He however stressed a need to strengthen the capacity of the National Fire Service of Liberia to adequately handle such national disaster.

We believe the Vice President’s comment is belated and a mere lip-service to national commitment to responding to fire disasters in the country adequately. Fire incidents in Monrovia and its environs remain very prevalent, sometimes destroying an entire community as was observed early this year in West Point Township, a shanty area not far from the latest occurrence. Even the Executive Mansion, home of our presidency was gutted by fire during Independence Day celebration on July 26, 2006 in the presence of visiting foreign leaders in Monrovia, a national embarrassment that has displaced President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since her first term.

Scores of citizens have lost their lives, including babies and older people in fire outbreaks from time to time. Yet still, the country’s fire service is left with barely two trucks and poor safety equipment for men and women sacrificing their lives for others and protecting properties.    

The fire service is a crucial component of the national security apparatus, but the level of attention being given to the service, particularly in terms of training and equipment is a complete mockery. Our hats off to family members of the two fire service personnel, who lost their lives, while trying to save others’ lives. They are true national heroes! 

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However, we believe it is about time that our leaders should stop paying lip-service to addressing such national imperative like fire safety issue because when disaster comes, we may never know who could be the next casualty or the toil on our economy. We must act now or never.

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