“FIRE IN ATU'U”
It is becoming a common thing to read of fires back home. Yet each time I read about it, the house is never saved. As a firefighter and as a Samoan, it is very disheartening, as it seems that fire safety is not taken serious enough.
The key to fire safety is fire prevention. We need to be more proactive rather than reactive. The fire department needs to enforce a stronger fire prevention program. This can only be done through community involvement and public education which can be done in many ways.
Getting into our schools at an early age is great way to start but like any program it must progress. School fire drills need to be conducted if not monthly, then quarterly. Cafeteria cooks and working personnel should be trained quarterly on fire extinguisher maintenance, inspection, hood and duct/extinguisher training and fire reporting procedures. Doing these drills will ensure that our children and staff are ready in the event of a fire. This will also give our fire department and police personnel insight on evacuation procedures and how to develop an Incident Action Plan.
On November 8, 2009 I was home helping out with the recovery phase after the Tsunami. That morning around 2am I had picked up my brother from fishing. Before going home he wanted to go McDonald’s. Driving towards Lions Park I noticed a glow and a smoke column coming from the Nu'uuli Vocational School.
When we got there, the school was on fire. I immediately had my brother call 911 and I jumped the fence. I quickly did a 360 of that facility to assess what my next actions would be. The first on scene was the police department. As I got to the gate the officer was my good friend Lt. Abe Penitusi. We then opened the gate and awaited fire department personnel. When the fire department arrived on scene there were a couple of things that I noticed.
1. Why were they not all suited up?
2. Why was the response time late?
3. How do you not know where the fire hydrant is?
4. Why don't we have a pre fire plan?
When the boots hit the ground no Self Contained Breathing Apparatus was put on. I quickly devised our action plan and put crews accordingly. For some reason it seemed like the common practice is to just put the wet stuff on the red stuff but it's not that simple. I took the axe from the truck and broke the door a room ahead of the fire.
Next, I punctured a hole in the ceiling and positioned a firefighter to shoot a continuous straight stream of water to ensure that fire would not spread to the unburned side. I then proceeded outside and instructed that all in that area put on their SCBA while continuing firefighting operations. I am glad to say that we saved the school.
As with any fire, when it is done a debriefing is conducted. A debriefing is used to critique our actions during our response, operations on the fire ground and during salvage and overhaul. This also gives us the opportunity to stress strengths and weaknesses.
When I had asked the crews to come together it seemed as if it were new to them when it shouldn't be. Everything we do as firefighters begins with public service and the only way to produce that is through training. We always train how we play and play how we train. We can't give quality service if we are not trained in every aspect of our job. We need to be more proficient!
These are a couple of things that will help us improve:
1. More training for fire department personnel
2. Pre Fire Plans need to be updated
3. Fire Officers need to have certifications commensurate with position
4. Get out from the desk and do building familiarizations
5. Position Fire Stations tactfully to ensure a good response time
6. Medic unit for every station to improve medical response
7. Place fire hydrants strategically or have a Water Tanker respond during Structural emergencies
I really am looking to retire in seven years and return home to be a part of the Fire and Emergency Service. Let's get it fixed as we owe the best possible service to the people of American Samoa.
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