Uriel Quilinguing .
WITH extreme heat, strong wind and combustible material, fire can be produced. It can be useful. But beyond one’s control, fire can be destructive.
Monday last week, just three days after the Fire Prevention Month took off in Northern Mindanao region, an afternoon fire broke out in Poblacion, Valencia City that left 23 families homeless. Worse, it had a fatality, a one-year-old boy. Initial damage estimate was placed by City Fire Station at over a million pesos.
I know how it feels because I was like them 24 years ago. My family lost all our belongings when the three-door apartment in Pinikitan district, Cagayan de Oro, where we lived, was burned down by a late afternoon fire. Because of that, my family moved from one place to another like nomads in the next two years until we finally found a place we can call, until today, a home. And, among the most unforgettable experiences I had was reporting to work—at Mindanao Gold Star Daily—in slippers, handed-over shirts and shorts for several days until the payday came.
For the Bureau of Fire Protection, obviously the sole lead agency in fire prevention, has imposed on itself a tall order, an ambitious and idealistic theme for the month-long awareness campaign—“Ligtas na Pilipinas Ating Kamtin, Bawat Pamilya ay Sanayin, Kaalaman sa Sunog ay Palawakin.” Frankly, I don’t think this three-pronged approach is doable if this has to followed to the letter.
Since the BFP is under the umbrella of the Department of Interior and Local Government, it can easily and effectively reach out to local government units. It can go down to the barangay level which, in a way, is closer to the household level. By then, the third part of theme, “Kaalaman sa Sunog ay Palawakin” may be attained, not in a month but sustained all year long.
On several occasions in the past, I had been among those who witnessed how the regional BFP based in Cagayan de Oro conducted the skills and readiness challenge for various fire-fighting units in the region. The participation of the private companies and volunteer brigades, with the backing of the Safety Organization of the Philippines, in these much-awaited BFP-initiated annual competition was truly impressive.
Commendable too is BFP’s bringing the fire-prevention awareness drive to schools with the conduct of essay-writing, photo, poster, and drawing contests among students. (I am delighted to know that among this year’s winners in these contests are campus journalists and I had sessions with them in the past.)
Aside from sustaining these, the BFP must continually share the skills and knowledge in fire suppression and prevention to the barangay level which, in a way, is closer to ideal household-level readiness.
Realistically, firefighters from the BFP and those from private companies and volunteer fire brigades can respond in dispatch but could not be in the fire scene at once. Aside from chaotic road traffic, often firefighters could not effectively contain the spread of fire in the absence of access roads. This is where the barangay residents, if trained well, knowledgeable, and equipped well, could provide the first line of preventive response. Ideally, every densely populated barangay with sizeable land area must have a manned and equipped barangay fire station.
It is inspiring to see members of a barangay fire brigade doing a bucketelay if only to prevent the blaze from spreading, before the firetrucks could arrive. Rainwater collection initiatives may work too during wet months; the water in barrels could help save lives and properties once fire occurs. This, however, can hardly be done at this time of the year.
Meantime, let us be mindful that small things in households, if ignored, may cause huge fires. Studies show fires can be traced to cigarette butts, match sticks, candles, wirings, defective bulbs, plugs, cords and even dried leaves. Sometimes, liquefied petroleum gas, solvents, paint thinners, adhesives and cleaning agents, if not safely kept, could cause an inferno. In offices and business establishments, smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and emergency exits must not be ignored.
In the Valencia fire, initial investigation indicated that the blaze started from the house of one of the victims. In the Pinikitan incident, unattended embers used in roasting pork-barbecue, situated across the fence of our rented space, caused the damaging fire.
In all likelihood, these two fires were due to negligence. If only every resident is aware of the consequences before an event could happen, then adequate preparation can be done.
(Uriel C. Quilinguing is a past president of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club. He is also former editor in chief of this paper.)