Can Ugandan firefighters cope with terrorist attacks?

It is no longer news that on Tuesday, November 16, suicide bombers associated with the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an extremist group affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group, unleashed two powerful bombings in the heart of Kampala city leaving a number of dead and others injured.

Clouds of smoke quickly filled the city streets. Office workers and residents alike ran in panic as they tried to get past the rising clouds of debris.

In the process, a number of buildings and other property, including motor vehicles, suffered serious damage.

These terrorist attacks were the latest in a series of bombings that rocked the country in recent weeks.

And at first glance, we might, unfortunately, just get started – the worst could be yet to come! Police spokesman Fred Enanga said at least 150 planned attacks have recently been defused, but terrorist groups are eager to carry out more attacks.

As new details continue to emerge on these terrorist threats, I have been tempted to delve into the recent history of Uganda’s response to similar threats and emergencies.

And this route took me straight to the country’s firefighters, an often overlooked but key police unit, especially in these troubled times.

As I analyzed the state of the Ugandan fire service, my memory quickly reminded me of the fire that ravaged the iconic main administrative building of Makerere University, now 80 years old, in September of the year. last.

The fire destroyed student records, university records and property worth billions of shillings.

Speaking to reporters immediately afterwards, the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Barnabas Nawangwe, said the blaze was seen within minutes of its outbreak but could not be stopped.

He said: “The early fire trucks failed to put out the blaze because they had short hoses that couldn’t spray long distances.

By the time fire trucks with cranes and long horses arrived, the fire had already spread to almost the entire right side of the building ”.

According to eyewitnesses, at one point, firefighters stood up helpless and watched the blaze rage.

It was clear that they had done their best. Hon. Mathias Mpuuga, now leader of the opposition in parliament, described the incident as “the highest level of criminal negligence and lack of planning”.

The Makerere University fire should have served as a wake-up call to the Ugandan government and police as it showed how ill-equipped the country was to fight fires and emergency response.

So it pains my heart to know that not much has changed in the fire department since then, even in the midst of today’s looming terrorist attacks.

Underfunding and inadequate fire equipment, personnel

The Ugandan Police Firefighting and Rescue budget for fiscal year 2021/22 is estimated at around Ushs 8 billion, or $ 2.3 million, but I doubt it is sufficient to replace the currently dilapidated fire equipment (fire fighting trucks, fire hydrants, tank trucks, etc.), training or retraining our rusty firefighters and creating basic safety awareness.

With the current state of Uganda’s firefighters, should a major terrorist attack occur, in the worst cases like the US attacks of September 11, I can guarantee that the emergency and rescue system would be overwhelmed almost immediately, resulting in hundreds of victims.

The service needs an immediate overhaul, with modernized technology, reworked on-site protocols and enhanced training for firefighters. In the September 11 attacks in the United States, without the heroic efforts of the well-trained personnel of the New York City Fire Department, thousands of lives saved would otherwise have been lost. And it turned out that around 343 firefighters lost their lives.

Fighting fires in the era of terrorism is a whole new phenomenon. We need today’s firefighters who are trained to respond to today’s disasters.

Their expectations and skills should go beyond fighting home or market fires, but also include responding to hazardous materials and managing domestic terrorism incidents.

Need a re-designed Counterterrorism and risk management strategy

The Ugandan police urgently need a new or revised counterterrorism and risk management strategy. For the fire department, the key element of this strategy should be the inclusion of response considerations.

Departmental terrorism preparedness can minimize the effects of an attack, accelerate mitigation and recovery, and better inform firefighters of terrorist trends.

The strategy should include intelligence production and consumption, specific counterterrorism training, technological improvements and improved network command structures that can better handle complex large-scale incidents.

The fire department must work tirelessly to dramatically improve its planning and operational capabilities to better respond to terrorism.

It should closely study past incidents, provide training on multi-agency and single-agency responses, and coordinate and collaborate with response objectives and operations.

More active approaches to fire safety during property construction are also essential. Working with other government agencies, building frameworks must now include fire protection, and engineers must perform computer analysis to model what could structurally occur during a fire rather than relying on it. defensive fire protection.

I agree that not all terrorist attacks can be prevented. However, it is important that our fire and emergency agencies promote a culture of preparedness and resilience.

But in doing so, we, the public, must also understand that every citizen has a role to play in preventing these heinous attacks.

By working together as a nation, I believe we can win this battle and gain the upper hand to end these events.

Mr. Mukalazi is the Country Director of

Every child ministry in Uganda.

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