Waterfront Philippines Inc. (WPI) began renovating the historic Manila Pavilion four years ago. WPI President Kenneth T. Gatchalian told reporters last year that the company installed new plumbing and technology in the hotel it purchased in 2004.
WPI’s investment was destroyed last week when a fire gutted the Manila Waterfront Hotel, killing five people and injuring more than a dozen others. Gatchalian and WPI executives may remember a well-known adage these days: “It is better to be a victim of theft ten times than a victim of fire.”
A very well said, perhaps a conviction, is based on the personal experiences of many Filipinos who have been victims of devastating and tragic fires. Every year, thousands of lives and billions of dollars in property are lost in the Philippines as a result of seemingly uncontrollable fires, which are frequently caused by negligence and apathy toward the consequences.
THE PHILIPPINES is still experiencing disastrous fires, which are frequently among the worst in history. A fire broke out at the Kentex Manufacturing factory in Valenzuela City on May 13, 2015, killing 74 people who were trapped inside the burning shoes-and-slippers factory.
It is the Philippines’ third worst fire incident, following the 1996 Ozone Disco Club fire, which killed 162 people, and the 2001 Manor Hotel fire, which killed 75 people.
Buildings were completely burned or destroyed in all three cases, huge amounts of investment were lost in a matter of hours, and those who were fortunate enough to escape and survive faced the tragedy of losing their jobs, their source of income and livelihood.
Moving forward to the present, the Philippines is still involved in fighting fires, if not preventing them.
A dangerous business
FIREFIGHTING is a high-risk occupation.
However, Filipino firefighters are among the bravest when it comes to fighting fires. Despite the fact that they lack firefighting equipment, they have been known to charge toward burning buildings while others flee for safety. While performing their duties, firefighters are sometimes seriously injured or killed. Because of proper training, this rarely occurs.
The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), the primary agency responsible for fire prevention and suppression, is one of the most understaffed government agencies created to tackle the monumental task of preventing and suppressing fires. The BFP’s annual appropriations are also in excess of what is “desirable.”
The total new appropriations for the BFP in 2017 are slightly less than P13 million.
The majority of this budget, approximately P11 million, is for personnel services, which includes salaries and allowances for its employees. Last year, the BFP’s funds were also used for maintenance and other operating expenses (P1.5 million). Only P543,606 was set aside for capital expenditure.
The budget was for the BFP’s 24,095 men and women.
There are 1,086 officers ranging in rank from Fire Inspector to Director among the total number of personnel. There were approximately 416 non-uniformed personnel, who performed clerical or office-based duties.
Only those with ranks ranging from Fire Officer (FO) 1 to Senior FO 4, totaling 22,593, are frequently deployed in the field. Some officers are still known to “volunteer” and assist in actual firefighting activities. However, not all of them are permitted to fight fire because each battle requires each of them to wear complete gear, which is not always available.
THE BFP is twice as short.
It lacks firefighters, with an ideal ratio of one firefighter for every 2,000 people or population. The BFP also lacks critical fire trucks and other fire fighting equipment. With a population of over 100 million people, the Philippines requires at least 50,000 personnel to fight fires on the ground. As a result, the actual number of firefighters is less than 100 percent.
Furthermore, given the vastness of the territory that requires firefighting, the BFP lacks fire stations, fire trucks, fire hoses, nozzles, and breathing apparatus that could help or improve the BFP’s fire fighting capability. There are currently 2,245 fire trucks in the United States, but only 1,958 (or 87 percent) are serviceable or in working order. Only about 163 are classified as unserviceable, with another 124 “under repair.”
The BFP is also in need of “usable” fire hoses and nozzles.
The BFP should have 31,430 fire hoses, but according to the most recent inventory, only 24,245 hoses are serviceable, leaving a 7,185 fire hose shortage. The ideal number of fire nozzles is 8,980, but the number of serviceable fire nozzles is 5,876, falling short of the required 3,104 units.
A total of 8,980 sets of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is the ideal number for the BFP. However, the BFP only has 1,938 SCBA units, falling short of the required 7,042.
According to BFP Superintendent Joanne E. Vallejo, every city and municipality should have one fire truck. According to Vallejo, each city and municipality is required by law to have one fire truck.
“We only have 2,343 fire trucks owned by the BFP and 446 fire trucks owned by the LGUs,” she explained. “So we have a total of 2,749 fire trucks across the country.” According to Vallejo, the ideal ratio is one fire truck for every 28,000 people.
According to the designated spokesman for BFP Chief Director Leonard R. Banago, every fire truck should also have 14 firefighters. “The ideal ratio for each firefighter is 2,000 people,” she explained. “We are currently short 376 activated fire stations.” However, not all of our activated fire stations are equipped with their own fire trucks.”
The only way to reduce the number of fire incidents and fatalities is to prevent them. As a result, the BFP is constantly implementing information campaigns to raise public awareness and provide safety tips to businesses, schools, dormitories, and even barangays.
People frequently disregard BFP warnings about fires. They go above and beyond to prevent this catastrophic and human error incident. After all, it’s all in your hands; do your part to prevent fire scenarios and both parties will benefit.
Purchasing fire insurance is an aforethought calculation and the foundation of a safety net in the event of an unexpected event.
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