On the evening of Sunday 1st of April 2012, I happened to be in town at around 6:30pm and I was supposed to meet someone and decided to wait for them at the Exchange bar at the Sarova Stanley Hotel. Moments later, I finished my meeting and was ready to head home. It was about 7:45pm and stepping out of the hotel, I saw a crowd of people and a fire truck. The building across was on fire. The 5th floor of Kimathi House on the junction of Kenyatta avenue and Kimathi street had a fire coming from just one of the shops at the corner adjacent to Barclays bank on Moi/Kenyatta avenue.
From my (very unprofessional in fire fighting skills) view, the fire was at a stage that needed only a single fire truck and a few fire fighters to contain. It was still in one room. What amazed me is that the truck packed on Kenyatta avenue was doing nothing at all while we watched the fire move from that one room and quickly spread to other rooms. An hour later, no drop of water had come out of the truck and a second truck came, tried their luck on it but their pressure was only enough to get to the 3rd floor of the building. At this point the entire wing of the 5th floor facing Kenyatta avenue was on fire. The fire was getting wild and scary.
After a few moments, private fire fighting companies joined the efforts. At this point, more than 1000 people were gathered around the building. G4S’ truck was succeeding in getting to the 5th floor and they managed to put off the fire at the edges of the wing facing Kimathi street. The fire was still far from over. More and more fire trucks came in, more from the city council and a few private companies, including KK security.
At about 9pm, the fire on the 5th floor started dying after consuming everything that was flammable, but there was a corner fire on the 6th floor that was just starting. There was more than 8 fire trucks around the building but none had the hydro-cranes to lift fire fighters to the level of the floor that was burning.
A few minutes later, a modern city council fire truck with the cranes arrived at the scene, leaving everyone wondering where it has been since 7pm while the fire station was only a few metres away from the scene of the incident. What was even more amazing is that it took more than 30 minutes before they could move up the crane and even when they did, they could not aim at where the fire was, in fact, they were watering the trees around the building. By this time, KK security and G4S had manually elevated ladders on the building and there were people up on the 5th floor putting off the fire. Eventually, these efforts saw the fire die.
I (as you probably do) have many questions. We have had city council fire fighters blame their inability to stop fires on roads, people and a lot of other reasons, what was their excuse for letting this fire go that fire into destroying people’s businesses and property? Their offices are 200m away from the building and even when they were all at the scene, it was private companies that put out the fire, do we really need a fire department in the city? I know the answer is yes we do, but there is a need for the government to take action on the city council before it lets people die of fires while they pay fire fighters every month to do nothing.
The government should engage the private sector which seems to deliver anyway and fully outsource the services from them with set regulations and I think every Kenyan will agree that we shall all feel safer this way.
Another thing I noted is that Kenya Power showed up at the scene at 8:55pm – while they had put off power on Kimathi street, the building has an automatic generator and it went on soon as the power was cut. All buildings should have adequate fire control measures and again, these are rules set and regulated by the same city council. The government should assign private firms these roles because we have buildings in the city that are just a disaster waiting to happen. Unfortunately, these are the buildings whose rent is low and that is where we have most people operating from.
Someone do something before it is too late.