Ayodeji Thomas: Counting the Costs of Fire Risks

It never ceases to amaze me, how very easily we trivialize risks in Nigeria, especially in the city of Lagos. On a daily basis, I watch people risk their lives as they ignore pedestrian bridges and dash across expressways in between fast moving vehicles.
I see how some others carry out illegal power connections from power transmission poles to houses & shops by themselves without the appropriate tools or skills to do so. However, it’s the shocking level to which we trivialize the risk of fire outbreaks that amazes me the most.
My first ever experience with a residential fire outbreak happened 25 years ago, when I watched a neighbour’s house totally burn in less than an hour, leaving them, not just homeless but, almost totally ruined as they lost virtually every physical possession they owned in the terrible inferno. I clearly recall the anguish I saw in Mr. & Mrs. S as they watched all they had spent their adult lives acquiring burn to the ground at about 2am in the morning. I also recall their 3 kids having to spend the next couple of weeks in our house sharing our clothes, food and even school books with us.
Looking back at the incident now, I realize that there was truly very little Mr. & Mrs. S could have done to avert the disaster. Back then in Ibadan where this happened, the Fire Service was virtually non-existent and would probably not have even responded quickly enough as there were no mobile phones and only few functional “land line” telephones existed then. Also, unlike now where we have electronic lamps to give off safe illumination when power failures occur, the standard means of illumination during night-time power failures was the use of candles (lit on Ovaltine or Milo tins!) and kerosene lanterns – both of which were extremely high fire risks as the illumination they provided was with naked flames. Finally, Mr. & Mrs. S, just like my parents, did not see the need for an effective fire detection system and so every night they went to bed, they simply relied on God to watch over them till the morning, and prevent any fire incidences during the night or the day time hours when their home was empty. In fact 25 years ago, such a system was seen as nothing but a luxury that was ways beyond the affordable range of the average middle class family. Even if they saw its need, they probably wouldn’t have been able to afford installing such a system in their home.

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