EDITORIAL — Preventing fires

As always during Holy Week, the temperature is soaring, taps are running dry and houses especially in crowded communities are at their most vulnerable to fires. March is Fire Prevention Month, and people must ensure fire safety in their homes as they go on vacation this week.

Fire officials recorded 9,000 fire incidents nationwide last year, up from 8,800 in 2006. This year 500 fires have been reported in the first 70 days alone, according to the Bureau of Fire Protection. The most common causes, BFP officials said, were candles and lighted cigarettes left unattended, overheated electric fans and faulty electrical wiring.

Fire prevention becomes more important when people consider how ill-equipped the country’s firefighters are in containing even minor fires. Filipinos still remember the death of a daughter of Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. in a fire believed to have been set off by malfunctioning Christmas lights at their home. The firefighters did not have the equipment needed to rescue the girl from a bathroom on the second floor. This was in Makati, one of the richest cities in the country.

BFP officials said the bureau has 1,272 fire trucks and 16,227 firefighters. The bureau needs 1,891 trucks and about 200 additional firefighters, apart from basic equipment such as fire-retardant suits, ladders and even heavy-duty hammers. In some areas such as Metro Manila, concerned citizens have pitched in, setting up volunteer fire brigades complete with modern fire trucks to assist government firefighters.

The lack of equipment combined with lax enforcement of fire safety regulations have led to horrific fires in the past two decades that have claimed hundreds of lives. In several cases, the high death tolls could have been prevented: a single entrance that swung the wrong way trapped hundreds at the Ozone disco; sealed fire exits trapped over a hundred people in their rooms at the Manor Hotel; antiquated electrical wiring triggered a blaze that killed children and their guardians in an orphanage. Accidents happen, but preventive measures reduce the risks and save lives.


EDITORIAL
The Philippine Star

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