Nairobi’s Emergency Response- Why so slow?
Fire and Gikomba market have become synonymous. Every year, since 2014, there has been a fire razing down the market. This year alone, there have been two fires. The most recent one was 6th October 2017. Property worth millions was destroyed and while no lives were lost or injuries reported, the response time was long. Several hours into the fire and emergency services were nowhere to be seen. The traders made futile attempts to salvage their goods but the fire was too strong for them and growing.
At Flare, we want to understand the factors that hinder response or slow it down. In this digital age, with smartphones and social networks, one would hope it would be easy to report a fire, right? Wrong. A study conducted by AFEM, shows that there is only one emergency number for all Kenyans, 999, and even then, the number is unreliable and mostly saturated with prank calls.
Community members who are laypersons and not first responders provide initial assistance in an emergency. Since they are untrained, they risk being injured or worsening the situation. It appears that the people have been conditioned to handling the emergencies on their own; the police or emergency response teams are seen as a last resort. That, or people are not privy to the numbers they need to call in case of an emergency. This lack of knowledge on the community’s part causes emergencies to go unrecognised for a long time.
Access is also a problem, for instance in the Gikomba fire incident. The market is crowded and the structures are so close together that the fire engines and ambulances cannot reach the emergency site on time. The fire hydrants in the city are scarce and it seems unlikely that they are functional. Therefore, with poor infrastructure the odds are stacked against the first responders and the community.
Flare aims to create a unified system among emergency service providers to help first responders reach people in need on time. Because emergency, by definition can happen at any time, anywhere, there needs to be some level of preparedness from the responders’ part and the community members.
What should you do?
- In addition to the state run 999/112 emergency number (let’s be honest, it doesn’t always work), look up numbers of privately owned fire/emergency/rescue services and save them on your phone or memorize. Better yet, get a Flare membership and call only one number to reach all of the best providers in Nairobi.
- Call emergency services immediately when something happens; most times the operator will walk you through what to do.
- Stay calm in an emergency and do your best to give directions to your exact location to help reach you in time.
*AFEM- African Federation for Emergency Medicine