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Reports on the headlines about fires and the destruction they leave in their wake are on the increase. One such recent report read “Property worth Billions of shillings was destroyed after a fire that started at a beach hotel on Tuesday evening spread to 26 private houses and villas. The fire is said to have broken out at around 5.30pm. Fanned by a strong breeze, it spread and caused damage over a two-kilometer radius.

The cause of the fire has yet to be established. Although there were no injuries reported, the blaze left in its wake immense destruction of property. According to an assessment by the Security Committee, 83 cottages, two water reservoirs, and three cars were razed. Residents and owners expressed shock and disbelief of how the fire could spread from one house to another so fast.

Although the fire fighters arrived about 30 minutes after they were called, they were overpowered by the blaze, and they ran out of water after engaging the fire for 20 minutes.

Nothing was salvaged from the cottages, and most visitors residing in the cottages lost everything including travelling documents. The crowds that gathered outside the hotel took advantage of the confusion and stole whatever items not damaged by the fire”.

Such reports are becoming part of daily reading. The major issues of concern emerging from such incidences is that the occurrences of fires are on the increase while the ability to fight them is on the decline or in some cases nonexistent.

A fire may occur in our homes, business premises or offices at any time. Saving of lives and property depends on our knowledge of what to do, what to have and how to act in the event of a fire occurrence.

Fire defined

Scientists have defined fire as the rapid oxidation of a material in an exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. The flame is the visible portion of the fire and depending on the substances alight, and any impurities present, the color of the flame and the fire's intensity will be different. Fire in its most common form can cause physical damage through burning.

The basic fact about fire is that we experience them every day, but we are least prepared to deal with fire incidences.  The usual causes of fire are smoking, faulty electrical wiring, power surges, smoking, arson, accidents, bush fires, and lighting.

Most fires start in our absence and when they occur, they leave in their wake bodily injuries, loss of life, psychological trauma, property damage, loss of earnings, loss of clients to competitors, and redundancy of employees just to name a few.

Positive and negative Aspects of Fire:

Fire is an important process and has affected the ecological systems across the globe positively. It has been used by humans for cooking, generating heat, signaling, and propulsion purposes ever since man discovered it in the stone age. Fire was at the basis of industrialization; and the positive effects of fire include stimulating growth and maintaining various ecological systems. Without fire, nobody knows what kind of abyss the human race would be in.

Fire if left loose can cause serious damage not only to property but to the environment as well. Bush fires have devastated huge chunks of forests and property rendering both animals and humans homeless. Other negative effects of fire include water contamination, soil erosion, atmospheric pollution and hazard to life and property.

Fighting Fires

People present around a fire occurrence would obviously wish to put out the fire and restrict the resultant property damage. However, they usually encounter difficulties in the process. Such difficulties may include:

  • Lack of adequate firefighting appliances
  • Poorly maintained firefighting appliances
  • Lack of knowledge on use of firefighting equipment
  • Safety concerns when getting close to fight the fire due to smoke
  • Delay in fire detection
  • The size of fire
  • Inexperience in firefighting
  • Use of wrong appliances/extinguishers to fight the fire, thus increasing the risk of injury
  • Lack of water
  • Delayed response by fire emergency services
  • Traffic congestion
  • Inaccessibility to the site of fire
  • Ignoring the fire alarms when sounded and
  • Panic


That the state machinery is inadequately prepared for fires has been demonstrated countless times. Incidences of the fire engines arriving late to the fire scene to fire engines running out of water is the order of the day and has been observed in all the cases.

Perhaps it is for this reason that some security firms have ventured into fire disaster mitigation to supplement the fire services.

Despite all these challenges, Individuals and organizations should be physically prepared at all times to secure themselves and their properties from fire.

The Question is, “How can the individuals and organizations prepare themselves in the event of a fire outbreak at home or at work? “

The first important step is to keep our homes, offices and business premises hazard free and secondly we should know how to respond to a fire outbreak.

According to fire experts, one item that every household should have is a fire blanket, which should be kept in a place that easily accessible by anyone in the kitchen, the mostly likely source of fire in the home. In addition, it is advisable to have a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher on the sitting room wall and a foam fire extinguisher in the bedroom.

Response to a fire situation for example may arise when you arrive home and find that your gas cylinder has been leaking. The first thing to consider is ventilation. When you open the door, do not turn the lights on or off. Switching the lights on or off produces sparks that can ignite the gas. If the lights were on, leave them on. Do not use torches and spotlights either. Instead crawl to the main valve and turn off the gas. Then open the window and get out of the house.

Children should be trained on basic fire safety. The children should be taught how to handle items that can start fires and such items should be kept out of their reach. Cases have been sighted of a children causing fires by using matchboxes or gas lighters left about by adults. They have also been seen to use cigarette butts thrown carelessly by adult smokers to cause fires.

One cardinal rule that should be taught to the children and indeed to the adults in the workplace as well is that once they exit the building that is on fire, they should not go back for whatever reason. They should not wander around the building but instead go to the fire assembly point to allow the fire marshals to take a head count.

For the workplace, firefighting equipment’s, fire marshals trained in managing a fire before the arrival of the fire engines, and well designated fire exit routes and designated fire assembly point is a must. It also helps to know the landmarks in the surrounding area to enable the person reporting the fire to give clear directions to the fire brigade.

Communication with the fire brigade for direction is important and once they have been called, it is important that the caller leave his/her phone open and un engaged because the firemen may need further direction to the scene and most importantly, they need to make on road preparations. For these preparation, the firemen may need to know how intense the fire is, the suspected cause and the number of people who may be trapped in the building. That will enable them prepare the equipment as they travel and enable them determine the number of people and their possible locations for rescue plans.   With his information, they may look for in specific places, and thus save time and possibly lives.

As has been cited above, one of the requirements for preparedness in firefighting should be the availability of some form of firefighting appliances in the homes and in the workplaces. It has been observed that very few homes have such appliances. Most workplaces however have them, but the challenges to fighting a fire is lack of knowledge on what kind of extinguishers to use.

Listed in the table below are the various types of fire and what appliances to use in their extinguishment:

Class of fire Type Extinguishing agent Colour of extinguisher Remarks
A Ordinary combustible or fibrous materials Water or Foam Red  
B Flammable or combustible liquids Foam, C02, Halon or dry chemical Extinguishers Cream  
C Electrical Equipment CO2, Halon, or Dry Chemical Extinguishers. Blue Do not use water as it is a good conductor of Electricity
D Combustible Metals Dry Powder Black  

The major accompaniment of a fire occurrence and usually a more lethal consequences of a fire is smoke. This is because one needs to inhale only three puffs of smoke to become unconscious. In case one is trapped in smoke filled room, the experts recommend that they should calmly sit on the floor, and look for a potential exit while seated. This could be the primary exit, which is the door, or the secondary exit, which is the window. If you can break the glass on the window, or the door or the walls, and get to safety, go for it. Otherwise it is safer to crawl out through the door. The reason for crawling is because the smoke usually rises to occupy the top space in the room, and in the process weighs down oxygen. While most people tend to run into the smoke in an attempt to get to safety, it is safer to crawl.

Once outside the room, it is advisable to avoid the lift and use the staircase, in case one is based on the upper floors. This is because power supply in the building can be cut off anytime in case of a fire outbreak, which may stop the operation of the lifts and trap those inside.  Do not take the lift even if you are 100 floors up the building.

Should you find yourself in the balcony, of a building that is on fire, and therefore cannot use the exit routes, get a white rag or a piece of cloth if possible and waive it in the air. The firemen and women are always on the lookout for such signals.

By Kenneth Oballa

Training Manager,


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