Ghana’s Surging Fire Incidents – Review of Ghana National Fire Service

Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS)
Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS)

From January and October 2019, Ghana recorded a total of 4,623 fire outbreaks with 39.63% domestic fire and 608 bushfires. Between January to October 2020 recorded a surge to 5,355 fire incidents with higher records during the COVID-19 lockdown periods where most families were home, recording a 35.67% domestic fire with 1,220 bushfires.

Fire is a rapid, self-sustaining oxidation process accompanied by the evolution of heat and light in varying intensities. Fire is believed to be based on a combination of four present elements; fuel, ignition source, oxidizing agent (usually atmospheric oxygen) and reaction mechanism. It can even occur from a mixture of flammable gases and combustible dust even if the lower flammability limit of the mixture is below the flammability limit of the individual substances.

On 29th August, 1997, Five Hundred and Thirty-Seventh Act of the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana, entitled, Ghana National Fire Service Act, 1997 (Act 537) was assented by three-quarters (¾) of the house to re-establish the Ghana National Fire Service to provide for the management of undesired fires and to make provision for related matters. Under the strategic objectives of the Ministry of Interior, The Ghana National Fire Service has been assigned to fire management, rescue and extrication services.

It was required to provide adequate protection of life and property, sensitize and provide technical assistance as well as provide advisory services to schools, markets, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs), lorry parks and other institutions nationwide on fire safety measures.

According to Ghana National Fire Service, the general rate of fire incidence increased each year. This increase was attributed to several factors: rate of population growth and industrialization, unstable electricity, urbanization, negligence, illegal electrical connection. It categorizes fire outbreaks into domestic, industrial, vehicular, institutional, electrical, commercial, bush, and others. Among these, domestic fire averagely accounts for about 41% of the total number of fire incidents in the country.

In Ghana, major causes of fire outbreaks have been electrical problems resulting from faulty wiring and misuse of electrical gadgets. Electrical faults originate from poorly designed and poorly constructed electrical circuits, and interestingly most electrical wiring found in many domestic buildings in Ghana are designed by local artisans with little or no knowledge of electrical circuit design.

Improper electrical fittings, use of substandard electrical materials, overloading of electrical appliances on the same fuse, defective generators, power fluctuations resulting from frequent power outages and illegal tapping of electricity from national grid leads to fire outbreaks, including, naked flames as a result of cooking with kerosene stoves, electric cookers, gas cookers and coal pots, or use of lighting devices such as candles and lanterns and lighted mosquito coils.

It is interesting to note that bushfire outbreaks can also be traced to intense harmattan especially untrolled burning and animal hunting. Interestingly, about 75% of fire outbreaks in Ghana are caused by cigarette smoking, 15% by ignorance, and 10% by accidents.

The effects of these frequent fire outbreaks have been devastating with little work done in the prevention and management of future occurrences. When fire occurs, there are several contributing factors that aids its spread to a more destructive level, these factors include wood shingle/thatched roofs, high wind, congested access, inadequate water distribution system and lack of exposure protection, unusual hot or dry weather conditions, delay in discovery of fire, inadequate personal fire protection and delay in raising the fire alarm and inadequate public protection by the Ghana National Fire Service.

A careful dive into Ghana’s fire incidents reveals that fire disasters can occur above the ground especially in tall buildings and sometimes occur in unexpected circumstances.

The occurrence of fire disasters is not a new phenomenon in Ghanaian history. In 1983, the fire that engulfed Ghana and led to a severe hunger crisis has become the major point of reference in the country’s history. Most of Ghana’s affected properties in recent fire outbreaks have been market centres, government’s valuable facilities and individual residential buildings. Accra Makola Market and Kumasi Central Market have suffered from a series of repeated fire outbreaks. Major public facilities such Ministry of Information, the loading gantry of Tema Oil Refinery, offices of the Electoral Commission and the Ghana Medical Stores have all been raked off by fire in the past.

This is a subtle call on the Ghana National Fire Service to become strategically proactive in delivering their core mandate of fire management as per the Ghana National Fire Service Act, 1997 (Act 537) of their establishment. These continuous but frequent fire outbreaks affect quality of life since the source of oxygen and biodiversity are mostly affected in every fire outbreak incidence.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, direct threat from burning, including to many indigenous communities, wildfires also release harmful pollutants including particulate matter and toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and non-methane organic compounds into the atmosphere. The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring System (CAMS) reports that fires release megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as well as copious amounts of carbon monoxide.

The incurring huge losses in terms of property damage and innocent lives is a great subject of concern to all. In the heat of Ghana’s economic loss in the coronavirus pandemic era, there must be a conscious effort to protect the state and individual properties from damages that could lead to poverty or extreme economic hardship.

In a precautionary education measure, all Ghanaians are admonished to be fire safety aware and conscious, adhere to fire safety protocols especially at the market centres and other workplaces, provision for emergency exits for homes, fire extinguishers and switching off of home electrical appliances and gadgets when leaving individual homes.

Mohammed Sani, Research and Policy Analyst
Email: Call/Whatsapp: +233244053638

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