Luganville Fire Service hampered by funding shortfalls
Responding to criticism of its handling of a fire earlier this month, the Luganville Fire Service says a shortage of funds is hampering its ability to fight fires.
The Luganville Fire Service Officer in Charge, Lieutenant Frank Tasaruru, says current funding shortfalls are a serious problem with the station urgently needing major renovations, new equipment and more fire fighters.
“At the Luganville Fire Station, the roof leaks when it rains causing our officers to get wet,” Mr Tasaruru said.
“And our fire truck and equipment does not meet the standards required of a fire station,” he said
He says despite the lack of resources the service’s fire fighters “humble themselves and continue to work”.
Lieutenant Tasaruru says a fire in a large building in Luganville earlier this month has exposed to the public the problems the Luganville Fire Service is facing.
The fire burnt down a three-storey building owned by business man, Jacques Tronquet.
The building housed a shop, a back store, a motel, Mr Tronquet’s residence and some other offices.
“It’s good for the public to know that our equipment, even the fire truck, is not in the right condition to fight a fire,” he said.
He says the Luganville fire truck has water capacity of only 1200 litres and its starter pump is not working.
Mr Tasaruru says he has attempted to purchase replacement equipment, such as a new starter pump, in Vanuatu but the equipment was not available and has had to be ordered from Australia. He says the COVID-19 lock down has delayed the delivery of equipment from Australia.
He says the Japanese Government donated a new Hino Fire Truck to the Luganville Fire Service in 2019.
However, he says the vehicle is not be able to be used by Luganville fire fighters as the training they need to use it has also been delayed by COVID-19 lock downs which have prevented trainers from Japan coming to Vanuatu.
“We are currently using a new portable pump which is mainly designed to fight forest fires and has only one line and a fixed length. It cannot shoot water into a huge building fire like this one,” he said referring to Sunday’s building fire.
Mr Tasaruru told VBTC that the Luganville Fire Service’s breathing apparatus is also not functioning.
“This equipment is not able to be used as it cannot be serviced due to lack of funding. [Government] funds are the key to everything, but every time we ask for funds, we receive a ‘no’ answer and so we are unable to do anything. We just let it go,” he said.
Mr Tasaruru says his fire service is also struggling with a lack of fire fighters.
“We should have a five-man crew on duty for each shift but we only have three men on duty,” he said. “Three men are not enough for each shift.
“I work in the administration section of our fire service but am now required to work in the operation section because we don’t have enough officers.
“The operation section has three shifts but because of the shortage of fighters, we no longer have the third shift.”
Mr Tasaruru says to manage local emergencies effectively the Luganville Fire Service should have a total of 17 firefighters but the service currently has only ten.
As a result, he says, in a recent fire incident, the fire station had to call on off-duty officers to help.
VBTC has also witnessed a former fire fighter coming to help the service during a fire incident.
Mr Tasaruru says most of the fires in Luganville are caused by naked flames like candles; or are electric fires.
He called on Ni Vanuatu to be cautious when lighting mosquito coils and candles.
“We must make sure children don’t play with matches too. Matches are not toys, these are tools and parents and adults need to keep them out of the reach of children,” he said.
Mr Tasaruru says hurricane lanterns or lamps are safer for people who don’t have access to electricity, than open flamed candles.
He says people need to leave a building immediately if a fire breaks out; and they should not approach large fires.
“During an emergency like a fire, only the emergency services should be in the area affected, not the public,” he said.