Courage under fire

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Credit should be given where it’s due. And a group of dedicated individuals that deserve all the credit they can get this week is the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (F.E.S.A.) team. 

We are referring to their heroics in battling the blaze at the fuel tank that blew up on Monday, sending widespread panic across Samoa. 

Today, as a nation, we should be grateful and count our blessings. For that could have been a major catastrophe of some sort. 

Now, they say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Looking back, there is a particular picture taken by our reporter, Vatapuia Maiava, who managed to get pretty close to the action that epitomized the courage of our firefighters. 

The picture appeared on the front page of the Samoa Observer on Tuesday and it was again published yesterday on page 10 showing three firefighters next to the tank’s lid, which had been blown off. With them is a lone water hose that looks absolutely insignificant against a blaze of that size.

The picture couldn’t have been a better depiction of the reality for the firefighters in Samoa. Here you had these brave firefighters risking their lives on the line of duty with such average gear. It was a wake up call. 

Having said that, the bravery of these men must be commended. F.E.S.A.’s Commissioner, Lelevaga Fa’afouina Mupo should be credited for going beyond the line of duty to protect Samoa.

We say this because no one in their right mind would have wanted to be anywhere near a burning tank filled with diesel, let alone next to two other fuel tanks that could have easily caught fire and exploded. While everyone ran away from Matautu, those poor firemen had no choice but run to the blaze.

We’ve since been told that the firefighters should not have been anywhere within a 100 metres of the burning tank but due to the lack of equipment that could do the job from that range, they had no choice but to get closer. And pretty close they were. What courage, what bravery. Take a bow F.E.S.A!

Many times, this is a group of people that cop a lot of criticism from the public about their work. And in some instances, rightly so.

But in acknowledging the challenges faced by F.E.S.A. – including the limitation on resources, finances, manpower and other issues – Monday’s incident should be another wake up call for the government about the need to invest in better equipment for F.E.S.A.

There is no doubt that as a country, we do worry about the safety of Samoa and capability of the Authority to handle major disasters. 

If these concerns are not addressed now, it could be disastrous in the future. 

Let’s be reminded here once again that during a fire, the blaze does not care about the challenges the firefighters go through. 

It means that while they are struggling with their poor equipment, by the time they turn around, a property is either totally demolished or just about. We’ve seen this time and time again. And it’s about time something is done about it.

The point is that within three months, we’ve now had two major disasters that have called into question the ability of F.E.S.A. to respond and respond well. The first was the Savalalo Market fire and now Monday’s one on the opposite side of town.

Ladies and gentlemen, on both occasions, Samoa was spared. 

And that’s largely by the grace of God and the dedication of F.E.S.A.’s officials working with their average equipment. We repeat, it is time for the government to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to the safety of members of the public. We are talking about the need to invest more in quality equipment to allow emergency responders such as F.E.S.A to do their work.

Our firefighters will only be as good as their equipment. That’s the undeniable truth.

Looking around Samoa today, the buildings are getting bigger and the likelihood for other major fires will only increase. Which means the safety of members of the public will continue to become a major issue.

Someone will ask but where will the government get the money?

Why don’t we start with the millions that are being wasted by abuse and corruption by public officials as identified by the Chief Auditor and the O.P.C. committee? Wouldn’t it be better if this money was spent on equipping F.E.S.A. and other essential service providers as opposed to ignoring how it was misspent and eventually lost? What do you think?

Have a safe Thursday Samoa, God bless!

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