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Ayodeji Thomas: Fire Safety & Prevention – Common Sense Versus Spiritual Beliefs

Ayodeji Thomas

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One of the first experiences I had at the start of my business about 15 years ago, was having to make a sales pitch of the need for a fire detection & alarm system to a lady who sold fabrics in her shop along Awolowo Road in Ikoyi, Lagos. We had just installed a similar system at one of her competitor’s shops just down the road, and assumed that would be a good reference. I recall with delirious humor now, not at that time though, how she very intently listened to me talk about the need for such a system to serve as an early warning of any possible fire threats to her huge stock of expensive fabrics and how it could save her several millions of Naira.
After having kept totally silent through my rather impressive pitch, adding only the occasional nod as though she agreed with all I was saying, she finally spoke when I was done, and this is what she said…“It is your business and home that will burn completely to the ground you this foolish boy…..as you and my enemies wish me evil so will God reward all of you with evil….this business will not burn in Jesus name and if there is a fire here at anytime I will report you to the police that you are the one who caused it and they will arrest you! Now get out of my shop immediately!!!

How can you say such a thing..…..aaahhh you must be an evil man! This fire will be arrested and this shop will not burn down in Jesus name” That was the angry interjection I got from a very emotional lady who overheard me expressing my personal opinion to a friend, that a significant part of the Ebeano supermarket building in Lekki would probably be lost to the fire, as we both watched the sad fire incident unfold.

I was immediately reminded of the experience I narrated above and found myself wondering if much has actually changed in almost 15 years, with this deeply rooted belief people seem to have that they are supernaturally and spiritually immune to fire outbreaks. Let me clarify that I am a Christian and I strongly believe in the miracle working all-powerful God. However, I also believe just as strongly, that this all powerful God expects us to do what is reasonably appropriate to protect and prevent ourselves from harm, for example not purposely eating spoilt food and expecting Him to heal us when we get afflicted with an illness as a result of such action. It never ceases to amaze me how several people so easily ignore the clearly logical line of thinking when it comes to fire outbreaks, preferring rather to succumb to emotional thinking and their belief that such will never happen to them, because God is watching over them. Is that to mean He’s not watching over the other person (who at times may be a member of their same religious faith) and who still had a devastating fire outbreak?

As I stood watching the early stages of the Ebeano shop fire disaster, and saw people running out of the shop with billowing smoke trailing them, I distinctly recall asking myself that despite the amount of similar devastating fires that have occurred over the past couple of years, why couldn’t I hear a fire alarm siren blaring & more importantly, why hadn’t it started blaring much earlier when this raging fire was simply a threat?
Why wasn’t the supermarket equipped with a sprinkler system, or even water hose reels, which would have greatly aided early extinguishing activities? Why weren’t there alternative exits for emergency evacuation purposes instead of just the entrance, which I now realized was a relatively small space when there was a need for a mass evacuation of people?
It didn’t take me long to realize that the answers I sought to my questions were not so much individual answers, but were actually all wrapped into one major realization, that just like several other big supermarkets, hospitals, cinemas, hotels, banks, clubs and several other business office buildings, there simply hasn’t been ANYTHING learnt from all the previous fire incidences.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t be as concerned as I am if these fire incidences were confined to personal homes, because in such cases only the people who choose to take the risk of believing such an incidence wouldn’t happen to them, bear the consequences when it does happen. However, I do have very major concerns, when these incidences occur in public buildings, especially those which people go into for purposes that are commercially beneficial to the building owners.

I recently watched a late night movie at a cinema in one of the malls in Victoria Island, and a few minutes after midnight, I had to make a restroom visit. On exiting the cinema hall, I heard the blaring sound of the fire alarm siren, which had been totally masked by the loud surround system audio of the movie I had been watching. To say I was totally shocked that nothing inside the cinema hall indicated to those of us watching the movie that there was a potential fire threat will be putting it lightly, but stupefied better describes my reaction at the total attitude of nonchalance displayed by all the night duty cleaning staff of the mall. Being a safety & security consultant, I went into full panic mode and had started looking for ways to commence an immediate evacuation of the cinema hall I was in and any other ones that may have been occupied, and in trying to get the guy I identified as a supervisor to help with this, he calmly told me “Sir, there is no cause for alarm….this siren just makes noise like this from time to time, especially at this time of the day”.

If you enjoy the nightlife in clubs especially in Lagos, you should ask your self a simple question the next time you’re entering into one of them…..“If a fire occurs in this club while I’m inside, what are the chances I will come out alive and without any bodily harm or injury?” If your answer to that question does not rank in the high 80’s on a percentage scale (and it probably wouldn’t!), then you should honestly ask yourself why you’re gambling with your life and going to spend your hard earned money in a “death trap”. I have been to several night clubs in Lagos, and I am yet to find a single one that has a functional fire detection and alarm system installed in it, or that has a functional and adequate fire exit that is an alternative to the main entrance into the premises. In the absence of these basics, it’s obviously asking ways too much to hope that they have well trained staff to serve as Fire Marshalls, who can effectively handle crowd control and emergency evacuations in the event of a fire incident.

A very wise man I know, taught me several years ago what he called the golden rule of getting things done. “What is not measured, rewarded or punished will NEVER get done”. This golden rule is what I strongly believe the issue of fire safety requires the most now, and very urgently too. For as long as there is no actual measurement of the level of compliance of buildings to the stipulated fire safety requirements, and there are no positive recognition or punitive measures taken for compliance and non-compliance respectively, there will always be reoccurrences of these devastating fire incidences. When the effective monitoring of fire safety standards in buildings becomes the norm, without a doubt most property owners, especially those open for commercial activities will place more of an emphasis on ensuring they are compliant to the fire safety standards.

One impact the unfortunate Ebeano fire had on Lekki residents, was the need to find alternative options for their grocery shopping and most, like me, moved to the closest alternative shop barely 5 minutes from the destroyed Ebeano shop. On a visit there last week during the Christmas shopping rush, I asked the attendant checking receipts at the entrance if there was a functional fire alarm system within the premises and if they had an alternative fire exit I could use if there was a fire threat. He didn’t have to answer as the lady behind me angrily pushed past me saying “Oga please move and let us enter, if you are afraid of fire go to another shop….The blood of Jesus will protect all of us here and this shop will not burn in Jesus Name”. I simply smiled and said “Amen” and walked out wondering when, if ever, I will eventually learn my lesson and keep my big mouth shut on this fire prevention matter, and exactly where in Lekki I was to find a relatively safer alternative to shop in!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Flashon Studio

Ayodeji is a well-seasoned security consultant and also the CEO of Artezia Security Systems, a leader in the security systems and solutions industry. Website: www.arteziasecurity.com Twitter: @dejitee / @arteziasecurity Email:   [email protected]

27 Comments

  1. Henry D

    January 5, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Nigerians are ignorant to such things. We barely take safety measures and believe we would be protected my God. You will often hear people say ‘It is not my portion in jesus name’ and most times I asked myself whose portion is it any ways?

    • Ayodeji Thomas

      January 5, 2016 at 10:13 pm

      LOL….Couldn’t agree with you more Henry…….whose portion exactly is it? It’s that mindset I’m hoping to challenge with this article and the several radio shows at which I’ve discussed Fire Safety issues…..Sadly though even tonight I’ve been called an “unbelieving heretic who has no faith in God” just for writing this article…….Na wa o!!!

  2. bisola

    January 5, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Honestly, we Nigerians have to learn more about health and safety precautions. heaven help those who help themselves.

  3. Donald Trump

    January 5, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    Oga ‘PanaPana’, why not create an awareness programme or technique if this really bothers u. It will be helpful u know?

    • ramat

      January 5, 2016 at 4:40 pm

      Your name (donald trump) is quite apt. You do realise THIS article is awareness right?

    • Ayodeji Thomas

      January 5, 2016 at 10:09 pm

      LOL….Spoken very much like the real Donald Trump, so like the entire world is doing with him I’ll just enjoy you being “you” and reiterate that like Ramat did say in an earlier response….this REALLY is a form of awareness!

  4. Sammie

    January 5, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Lovely article. There’s a difference btw knowledge and understanding. Nigerians can be so close minded & diffcult to relate with. It’s who shouts the loudest wins the argument!

    NIgerian Society of Engineers shd advise d FG wit policies that address Health & Safety issues. No point having book knowledge wit it not making any impact in the society you live in.

    • Ayodeji Thomas

      January 5, 2016 at 10:18 pm

      I totally agree Sammie…..the road to achieving this change we so desire starts with us all and I believe if we all keep making enough noise about it too, someday we’ll be the ones shouting the loudest and then we will be the ones winning the argument!

  5. ATL's finest

    January 5, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    What a very nice article. Like someone said to me back in Nigeria when I visited. I asked hope your man is not “AS” remember your are AS & that is a lot for U to think about . Lo & behold , she replied with her faith & spiritual self ( God forbid we can’t have a Sickle cell baby) even if we r both “AS”. I believe in God. OK very few people escape from not having “SS” but why act ignorant when U know the consequences?
    I hope some Nigerians will quit been closed minded & face reality.

  6. Way forward

    January 5, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    It is agreed we have a problem in this area in Nigeria, I think the question now is what can we do to change this status quo?

  7. Cookie

    January 5, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Really nice article. I must commend the writer for taking out time to put this down.
    In my opinion, I don’t think the fire alarm and sprinkle would work in the night club due to heavy smoking that goes on in there.

    • Ayodeji Thomas

      January 5, 2016 at 10:49 pm

      Thanks for your kind commendation Cookie.

      You’re quite right that these systems aren’t best suited for nightclubs, but there are so many other fire safety stipulations for such premises that are TOTALLY ignored here in Nigeria.

      For example………

      Overcrowding: Virtually all clubs in more developed countries have bouncers outside that strictly control the number of people allowed into the club premises once it reaches its capacity limit and you definitely aren’t getting into the club unless you have a VIP reservation or some occupants leave for the night and you’re next in line to go in.!

      Fire Exits: Again, these are standard requirements for clubs in more developed countries, to have multiple fire exits that allow the safe and rapid evacuation of club goers from the club in the event of a fire emergency,

      It’s rather sad that since these two basic points are so blatantly flouted, its little wonder that other points like effective training of club staff in evacuation procedures or how to use fire fighting equipment are not even given any thoughts whatsoever to.

      It’s really my hope that more voices will join in this campaign to make us all safer especially in public buildings.

  8. The real D

    January 5, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    I think our “men of God” need to start preaching this from the pulpits. We Nigerians are a very religious bunch hence the women’s responses. I believe in miracles at the same time I believe in looking at what God has given us, mixing that with a dash of prayer and a little dose of faith to pursue what we hope for. I know a church that when the senior pastor started preaching the importance of the use of seat belts many of its members started using them religiously. Many of them had heard this before but never took it seriously until “pastor” said so. The truth is that the average Nigerian turns off their brains when religious speaks come into play.
    I remember my dad telling I did not have enough faith when he visited me after I moved from my efficiency unit (studio apartment) to a 1 bedroom. I was in college, working full time, he saw my basement 1 bedroom apartment and decided I could afford my own house. Yes my house was completely furnished but my entire furniture at the time were bought used from friends or yard sales. Even my TV was used, all of which I made him very aware of. When I told him I couldn’t. I did not even have anything saved at that point in my life, I mean between school expenses and just basic life necessities, I was making just enough to meet my needs. So nothing for a down payment or even closing cost,my father decided that oyinbo mindset had left his children without faith. I guess I was supposed to go to the bank and tell them I want to buy a house, I don’t have money but no worries I shall be paying using faith. I love my dad but sometimes dude makes me weak.

    • lala

      January 6, 2016 at 5:20 am

      To their credit some men of God do try and break the mold. One of the pastors in my youth church always complained that we seemed to leave our common sense behind once we entered the church premises. He’d always bring up an example from the time we went away for a (church sanctioned) youth trip out of town, he saw someone trip over a vine, freak out and start screaming “Won le mu mi”. Pastor asked the person who the people after him were, home boy couldn’t answer.

      The fact is that most Nigerian Christians don’t care. I am sorry for the generalization, but it’s true. They are just looking for the next miracle or breakthrough and if one church isn’t saying what they want to hear, they’ll move to the next one. Besides, in their mind it’s not never their portion to have any form of misfortune befall (even one caused by wanton carelessness). In this situations, I’d normally say leave the blind to their predicament but the fact is that it is always innocents that most likely than not suffer. People in this country never seem to do the needful until it is far, far too late.

  9. Oladapo

    January 5, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    Great article, fire protection is very important and I believe we need to start taking preventive measures towards this so we don’t loose properties and lives.

  10. The real D

    January 5, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    @ Mr. A. Thomas, I just tried clicking on your website, it does not seem to exist. I am interested in getting more information on security systems especially with sprinkler systems and co in Nigeria

    • Ayodeji Thomas

      January 5, 2016 at 10:04 pm

      @ Real D…..very strange that the link here seems to have a problem….apologies for that. I assure you that the website is up and running as usual…. http://www.arteziasecurity.com

      Kindly send us a mail using [email protected] and we’ll surely revert on sorting you out with regards to your information request ok?

      Looking forward to hearing from you……Cheers!

  11. cuddly

    January 5, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Very nice article and so true. Like someone said..we live with these realities and unfortunately we do not do anything about them. It’s good that awareness is being created. Each and everyone of us need to be ambassadors of this as well…help the next person see the importance of this, and little by little, we will achieve our aim. We’ll done Mr. Thomas.

  12. Opinion

    January 6, 2016 at 12:40 am

    The one thing I can say for free is that a fire accident is most certainly NOT the way you would want to learn things the hard way. That kind of lottery is only for fools….especially the ones that won’t waste time to buy aso ebi or hire a make up artist when it’s time to go to an Owambe party. Our people really need to wake up and prioritize with wisdom.

    • Ayodeji Thomas

      Ayodeji Thomas

      January 6, 2016 at 8:47 am

      LOL @ the Owambe party way of thinking…..so very true!

      Yeah I agree with you that people need to wake up and face this matter of Fire Safety & Prevention, especially because the present route being taken is truly a very expensive way to learn the lesson.

      Lets hope that this helps people begin to at least give this some thought, and hopefully make some change in this regards.

  13. adelegirl

    January 6, 2016 at 11:05 am

    In my office, we have fire/smoke alarms installed but the batteries are reportedly out so it makes (an annoying) beeping sound intermittently. Of course this means the alarms won’t function as they should thereby defeating the purpose of installing them in the first instance. But nobody seems bothered about it o yet we have international/foreign employees here too. So, apparently it’s not just a Nigerian thing to be unconcerned about fire safety/precautions.

    • Ayodeji Thomas

      Ayodeji Thomas

      January 6, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      Good point Adelegirl……it truly isn’t a Nigerian thing from the perspective you’ve raised but I assure you that chances are very high that in the countries those same expatriate staff come from, such a culture of nonchalance to Fire Safety standards will NEVER be tolerated, and that’s the part where I believe the “Naija Factor” comes to play.

      I also assume that for them, they simply see such non-compliance as just another aspect of several things that are wrong with our nation compared to theirs (epileptic electricity supply, almost non-existent traffic laws, low public hygiene standards, etc), all of which they already tolerate and adjust to as the price they pay to work in Nigeria.

      Like I said, the starting point is to hold all employers and business owners accountable for the full compliance status of their buildings to all Fire Safety standards, most especially because of the dangers non-compliance poses to lives, and when that happens people will be forced to comply.

  14. Gerry E

    January 6, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Properly functioning smoke and fire alarms are useless if no one knows how to react in the event of a fire. There is a need to teach staff and property owners on how to safely exit buildings if a fire ignites.
    These alarms should be tested regularly too, I once worked in a place that was loaded with a lot of “expired” fire extinguishers.
    Good write up, hopefully it will motivate us to be more “safety conscious”. We need more people like you, keep it up!

    • Ayodeji Thomas

      Ayodeji Thomas

      January 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm

      Gerry E (My Personal Person……LOL!!!)

      Thanks for lending a voice to this and your kind commendation……I believe with more voices like yours joining in, we will indeed achieve higher standards of Fire Safety consciousness in Nigeria.

  15. Anonymous

    January 6, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Well written article. Hopefully this will create some awareness so that more steps are taken by business owners/managers (and even private individuals in their homes), to mitigate against fires, and to know the necessary steps to take in the event of an outbreak.
    “Heaven helps those who help themselves”… May God continue to protect us all 🙂

  16. TeeY

    January 6, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    This article had me in stitches. It’s a very important topic, i agree, but your manner of writing is so hilarious. I enjoyed every bit of it. Please write more.

  17. Vivienne Asukwo-Ntekim

    January 6, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    What a fantastic article. It is most refreshing to actually read an article written in English, so well done sir for that. I totally agree with your thought pattern; Nigerians are the only ones with the special grace to guise arrant stupidity as blind faith. Guy, you need to take this awareness so much further than this forum. Radio Awareness talk shows, TV, outdoor programmes linked with Senior Officers of the Fire Service, etc. Just like when Aids broke, many Nigerians felt because they were Christians, such wouldn’t be their portion, yet many of them have died from that disease. ‘Stay away from over crowded rooms, No; install fire alarms, Hell No; Sprinklers nko, why, when God is my father? Well sir, I pray God grants you divine favour to actually see this great mission through.

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