Over 10 separate fires that have occurred in Blantyre City since 2013 have highlighted the inadequacies of the government when it comes to dealing with fires in the country’s major cities.
The fire departments in the major cities are often overstretched, and when houses burn residents engage in risky response activities in a desperate bid to douse the infernos.
This question of unpreparedness in disaster response and inadequate fire engines continues to haunt residents of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu, who dread fires because they know the fire department cannot be relied upon to give any meaningful help.
The fire at Nico Holdings Limited in Blantyre on Friday once again underscored how exposed the firefighting teams are to fire accidents.
Onlookers watched as crucial documents and property worth millions of kwacha went up in flames as fire razed part of the top floor of the Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE) listed financial powerhouse in Blantyre’s central business district (CBD).
According to witnesses, the BCC Fire Brigade struggled to reach the top floor which was engulfed in fire because they had no ladders to reach the floor while the fire engines had little water carrying capacity, and had to be repeatedly driven off to be refilled.
BCC chief fire officer Prescot Sailas on Friday conceded: “Despite facing challenges we managed to successfully put out the fire.”
But the heroism of fighters from the Fire Brigade are not enough to keep buildings and people safe in the city.
According to one of the firefighters at the council, the city has nine fire engines of which only four are working.
He also said the fire engines are too small to put out huge fires if they occur in buildings with two or more floors.
In an earlier interview with Weekend Nation, BCC chief executive officer Alfred Chanza said their fire engines they have are indeed too small and are not capable to quickly douse fierce fires.
“Inadequate fire engines are affecting Blantyre as a council. The ones we have are indeed too small but we are working with some sister cities who have promised to buy us new fire engines,” he said.
In Zomba, the council’s public relations officer Mercy Chaluma said the council has four fire engines although only two are in working condition. n