EDITORIAL Year-round fire prevention

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL Year-round fire prevention

Even before the start of Fire Prevention Month, fires have destroyed property and left several persons dead or injured in different parts of the country in the past weeks. In the Cordilleras, fires have destroyed 40 hectares of forested areas on Mount Pokis. The forest fires have triggered smog alerts in Atok, Itogon and Tuba in Benguet and even in Baguio City.

In the final days of February, fires hit several areas in Metro Manila, causing death and injuries, displacing hundreds of families and destroying property. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 26 this year, 2,742 fire incidents have been recorded nationwide – an increase of 23 percent from the 2,224 recorded in the same period last year, according to the Bureau of Fire Protection. This year’s fires have left 55 people dead and 184 injured, with damage to property placed at P1.23 billion. In Metro Manila alone, 222 fire incidents have been recorded by the BFP from Jan. 1 to Feb. 26.

The country has had a long string of killer fires – in a crowded disco, in hotels, an orphanage, in a plastic slipper factory and other manufacturing facilities, and in residential communities particularly in informal settlements. The daughter of former speaker Jose de Venecia and congresswoman Gina de Venecia died in a fire blamed on defective Christmas lights at their home in exclusive Dasmariñas Village in Makati.

Some improvements have been made, but the country’s firefighting capability remains inadequate. As of January this year, BFP data showed that 123 municipalities remained without fire trucks and stations, with the biggest lack recorded in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao followed by Eastern Visayas, the Zamboanga peninsula, Northern Mindanao and the Cordillera Autonomous Region. The weak firefighting capability in the Cordilleras has contributed to the massive forest destruction and toxic smog from the recent fires.

Several private groups have organized volunteer firefighting brigades with their own fire trucks to assist the government. The BFP itself, however, still lacks regular personnel, with one firefighter for every 3,459 population – still a long way from the ideal ratio of 1 for every 2,000 people. This inadequacy makes it all the more important to observe fire safety practices and enforce building fire safety standards. While March is observed as Fire Prevention Month, preventive measures are needed all year round.

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