I am one of those who appreciate our firefighters who exerted efforts to put out the fire at the Metro Department Store in Ayala Center Cebu last week.
I fully agree that every ordinary firefighter who participated in such activity deserves to be acknowledged by the DILG.
Although it took the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP-7) 40 hours to declare the incident under control, such delay is attributed to the shortage of firefighting equipment of our fire department. The skills of our firefighters are beyond question.
When the fire started at 9:44 p.m. of Friday last week, our firefighters quickly responded. The working fire was unstoppable that triggered the fire department at 10:51 p.m. to raise the alarm to task force alpha, which means that fire stations in the neighboring cities and towns were asked to help.
Our firefighters penetrated inside even until they encountered the thick black smoke that engulfed the store as a consequence of the working fire.
They continued to combat the fire amid the clouds of dark smoke using their breathing apparatus. When the oxygen of their breathing apparatus was consumed, they wanted it refilled so they could go back inside.
However, as early as 11 o’clock in the evening, the Cebu City Fire Department’s oxygen refilling machine was damaged. Since then, no firefighter had penetrated inside. No more water that would prevent the fire inside. The sprinkler and the fire alarm systems were reportedly not functioning at that very moment when they were most needed.
Only in the late morning of the following day that water from the fire trucks was sprinkled inside the store when the hard concrete wall of the mall was purposely busted. At that time, fire had already gained its momentum.
When I interviewed Mr. Nigel Bañacia, Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office chief, he said that he was worried that the fire would reach to the basement of the mall as there might be flammable materials in the area. I suggested him to tap the private sector, particularly diving resorts so they could lend their oxygen refilling machine to supplant the damaged one.
I believe all the while that the BFP-7’s shortcoming to control the fire immediately was because of its lack of firefighting equipment. However, during my interview on the matter with Samuel Tadeo, BFP-7 director, he made it appear that the bureau doesn’t have a problem on the equipment.
He further said that the BFP-7 has enough breathing apparatus distributed to the different fire stations. He said that firefighters were not allowed to enter the building in the following day because of the non-tolerable hot temperature inside.
Such incident clearly manifests that the BFP-7 lacks the firefighting equipment. I think Mr. Tadeo was just hesitant to accept the reality. When he did not allow his firemen to get inside, maybe he was just so concern of their safety. Their lives are precious as compared to the two thieves who managed to get inside when they did not have breathing apparatus and fire suit at all.
Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte approved to buy P1 billion worth of firefighting equipment. This is a welcome development. I just hope that Tadeo will tell the truth as to the predicament of the BFP-7 so that it can have a sufficient share of the budget. After all, Cebu is second to Manila with respect to developments.
On the other hand, while I am not subscribing to the suspicion of some netizens about the Metro blaze, I hope that the BFP will conduct an in-depth and honest investigation of the incident. I hope it could come up with recommendations also to prevent same incident in the future.