Property fires in Bulawayo escalated in the previous year due to power surges caused by increased electricity load shedding, which damaged electrical appliances and damaged property valued at almost $ZWL500 000 000, the city council has reported.
To make matters worse, the city’s fire department faced resignations from experienced firefighters each month, as they sought greener pastures.
Bulawayo mayor, Councillor Solomon Mguni, stated in his end-of-year report that the city council responded to 528 fire calls from January to November of last year.
Despite a significant decrease of 18 percent from the previous year’s similar period of 645 calls, there were more property fires reported.
Mguni said the property fires could be attributed to “increased power load-shedding as a reasonably high number of such fires resulted from electrical appliances that were left on and unattended and the use of alternative lighting means such as candles during periods of load-shedding.”
“Property worth RTGS$494 276 900.00 was lost to fires,” said the mayor.
The council also recorded two fatalities from fire accidents from January to November last year.
“One of the deceased was a fireman who succumbed to burns he sustained whilst fighting a veld fire. Council extends its condolences to the bereaved families for the untimely death,” said Mguni.
During the same time period, the Fire Brigade responded to 159 special calls, according to the mayor, who added these were non-fire related incidents, such as road traffic accidents, trapped people or animals, and so on.
“The Brigade embarked on a massive fire awareness campaign programme throughout the city. This was to empower citizens to prevent fires from starting in the first place. Coupled with controlled burn-off to pre-empt grass fires, the campaigns yielded results in the reduction of other categories of fire,” said the mayor.
The Fire Brigade identified three major sources of fire outbreaks: negligently thrown lit material (75 percent), deliberate fire setting or arson (15 percent), and others (10 percent). “Over this period, the Brigade recorded 34 false alarms, an increase from the previous year’s of 24,” said the mayor who expressed concern that “it is worrying as a fair share of these calls were of malicious intent.”
According to the mayor, when few resources respond to a malicious fake call, delays in responding to a meritorious call occur since these calls arrive at the same time.
He also said in the period under review, there was a “massive departure of experienced firemen for greener pastures.”
“Eleven resignations were recorded, making it a resignation each month. Besides robbing the function of experienced personnel, this is a big dent in the Brigade’s service as such departures leave a gap in the mentoring of the newly qualified fire-men and women.”
The mayor noted vandalism of fire hydrants by members of the public was another cause of concern.
“To make sure that the hydrants are usable, the Brigade has put in place an inspection programme so that the vandalised equipment is repaired and usable. This is a further strain on the already outstretched resources,” Cllr Mguni said.
The current water-shedding programme also affects fire hydrants, as they go without water for long periods, he added.
“In times of fire incidences, the public is encouraged to call the Brigade without delay. Generally, people attempt to extinguish fires on their own and only call the Brigade when they fail to. Valuable time would have been lost by the time the call is made,” the mayor said.
Despite running an average daily fleet of no more than six ambulances, the Emergency Medical Services conveyed a total of 15166 patients to medical institutions during January to November.
“With the assistance of funding from a development partner, the ambulances are now fitted with patient monitors that bring them to basic international standards of pre-hospital care. Funding from the same donor is committed to the repair of a decommissioned ambulance and this will increase the fleet by at least one more ambulance,” Cllr Mguni said.