The hazard called fire

By Benjie Talisic and Doris C. Bongcac March 15,2018

A fireman uses a stick to retrieve flammable items and prevent the February 20, 2018 fire which burned homes in Upper Yati, Barangay Quiot from spreading.
CDN FILE PHOTO

Most fire incidences reported in the region in January 2018 involved residential areas (38); while the rest were commercial (8), educational structures (4), government offices (3), and factories (2).

A total of 10 car fires were also reported during the same period.

Data from the Bureau of Fire Protection in Central Visayas (BFP-7) for the years 2016 and 2017 show that unsafe electrical connections were the most common cause of fire.

This was followed by lighted embers, unattended cooking, and open flames from lighted candles and gas lamps.

The fire incidents mostly involved homes and commercial establishments which resulted to the loss of P85.8 million worth of properties in 2016 and P100 million worth of properties in 2017.

The fires also caused the death of 34 people in 2016 and 15 individuals in 2017 with a total of 99 civilians and 7 firefighters injured across the region.

Firefighting difficulties

The shortage of personnel and equipment are problems that have affected the firefighting capabilities of BFP-7 and the Cebu City Fire Department for years.

A place like Cebu City, for example, which has a population of at least 922, 611 residents is supposed to have one firefighter for every 2,000 residents for a total of 461 firefighters to serve its constituents, said BFP’s 2018 report.

But to date, the Cebu City Fire Department only has 182 personnel which is 279 firefighters short of the ideal ratio.

Of its 182 personnel, only 127 are fully trained to handle active fires on the scene while the rest attend to administrative work.

Furthermore, of the city’s fire department personnel, at least 27 are nearing the retirement age of 56.

The city’s firemen hold base at their headquarters along Natalio Bacalso Avenue and the nine sub-stations located in Barangays Talamban, Mabolo, Pahina Central, Pari-an, Lahug, San Nicolas, Labangon, Guadalupe and Pardo.

Data from the city fire department also show that as of March 12, 2018, only 11 fire trucks were serviceable which is 19 trucks short of the ideal ratio.

Ideally, Cebu City needs to have 33 fire trucks or one fire truck for every 28,000 residents.

Of the 11 fire trucks, seven are owned by BFP; while the four others, including an ambulance, are city-owned.

Cebu City has 80 barangays all needing the prompt services of the fire department in cases of emergency.

At least two of the eight hand held radios owned by the department are also not serviceable.

In Central Visayas, 44 fire trucks owned by BFP-7 no longer run. Of the bureau’s 201 firetrucks, only 157 remain serviceable.
The list includes 74 fire trucks assigned to the province of Cebu.

Budget shortage

Cebu City Fire Marshall Chief Insp. Noel Nelson Ababon, in a talk with Cebu Daily News, said that the department received from BFP a fuel allocation of P181,000 per quarter last year and another P 10,000 per quarter for the maintenance and repair of the firetrucks.

But the department’s first quarter allocation this year has yet to be released, Ababon said.

In the meantime, fuel is drawn, on loan, from an accredited gasoline station with a promise to pay the station as soon as the quarterly budget is released.

For the four city-owned fire trucks, the department receives aid from the Cebu City government through a 200-liter per month gas allocation.
Each firetruck would load at least 20 liters of fuel per trip to the depot or gas station.

Ababon said that their overall fuel consumption would vary depending on how often they are called to respond to fire emergencies.

He said fuel consumption increased this month because their trucks roved thickly populated villages in an information drive to announce fire safety measures as part of activities for March as Fire Prevention Month.

Annabeth Cuizon, chief of staff of Finance Committee Chairperson Cebu City Councilor Margot Osmeña, said that the city government, during the administration of former Mayor Michael Rama, allocated P94 million for the fire department.

However, a budget request has not been sent to Mayor Tomas Osmeña this year, said Cuizon.
Still, City Hall allocated P8.7 million as subsidy for firefighters serving the city this year, she said.

Innovations

For his part, Ababon said that while they have to make do with existing personnel and equipment, they also try to find ways to help reduce fire incidents in the city.

For one, the daily “recorida” or announcements conducted in Barangays Ermita, Labangon, Pardo, and Guadalupe in the south and Mabolo, Lahug and Parian in the north district this month is their way to reach out to some of the city’s biggest villages.

Ababon said they will continue to rove around barangays in order to warn residents against common practices which are considered hazardous such as the use of octopus connections or extension cords with multiple outlets.

They also remind residents of the need to constantly check on cellular phones that are being charged and to make sure that other appliances are unplugged from the outlet that is being used to charge the phone.

Among other things, Ababon urged the public to regularly clean appliances like electric fans to prevent overheating.

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