Kenya is one of the fastest developing countries in Africa. In this country of 48 million people, according to UNDP data, every year one million young people enter the labour market, but only two hundred thousand find decent jobs. The lack of fire protection is one of the factors that discourage investors from building new factories and creating new jobs. The non-existence of an institutionalised fire department is a major barrier to job growth in the industry sector.
Uncontrolled spontaneous spread of fire poses a threat to human life and health. Fires in multi-storey apartment buildings and boarding school dormitories not equipped with proper water hoses or fire escapes cause the death of as many as a dozen or so people at one time. Fires spreading in poor districts, which destroy tens and sometimes hundreds of adjacent houses, leaving thousands of people homeless, are even more threatening. Fighting fires in cities is difficult because of the almost total lack of water supply systems and water hoses. Until now, Kenyan fire-fighting services were mostly helpless in the face of such challenges: fire engines arrived at the site very late (sometimes 4-5 hours after the fire started), without water, and firefighters could not cope with raging blazes.
During the last five years, thanks to projects co-financed under Polish development cooperation of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and implemented by the PCPM – Polish Center for International Aid Foundation, firefighters’ efficiency increased in 19 out of 47 Kenyan counties. PCPM experts trained almost 40% of Kenyan firefighters, who completed basic firefighting training and medium-advanced training in fighting fires in factories, rope rescue, water rescue and first aid. As a result, the firefighting service is now better prepared to handle rescue operations, while in some cities the time it takes for the fire brigade to arrive at the scene was shortened to just seven minutes. Firefighters, who have been trained and adequately equipped with personal protection gear, are now performing feats which still a few months ago were unattainable for them: they are saving women and children from burning buildings (Murang’a County), children who fell into holes in the ground (Kiambu County), or even persons crushed by rubble from collapsed buildings (Kilifi County).
In 2017, the PCPM officially opened a training centre in the town of Kiambu near Nairobi, which is now being expanded thanks to Polish Aid funds. It will become the main centre of basic firefighting training for currently employed firefighters and new recruits from Kenya. Polish experts are also training firefighters in other regions of Kenya, where bigger fire departments are located – in 2018 these were in Meru County (33 fire-fighters) and Kilifi (110 fire-fighters and life guards).
In addition to fire, people living in this region also have to battle against uncontrollable water. Kenya has been witnessing more frequent floods lately because of climate change, with disastrous consequences for its inhabitants. According to UNOCHA data, two-thirds of Kenya’s territory was affected by floods in April and May of 2018. At the time, 186 people died and over 800 thousand suffered injuries. Following these events, representatives of five Kenyan counties drew up crisis response plans relying on Polish know-how and experience. The topics of fire fighting training still provided by PCPM are gradually being expanded to include elements of flood rescue. The first impacts have already been observed – 18 people were rescued in Meru County. To improve the training programme, a panel was added about building line bridges over swollen rivers. Advanced training courses in rope rescue were carried out in November 2018.