In this interview with HSENations, she spoke on her upcoming conference and the challenges bedeviling fire safety in Nigeria.
For the benefit of our readers, can we meet you?
My name is Mrs. Debbie Windele. I’m a graduate of Law at the North London University and a certified safety professional. I worked for the London Brigade as member of the management team for 18 years where I gained most of my working experience. Today, I run my own company called Safety Expert Limited, which I set up in 2014.
What inspired your transition into fire safety?
After bagging a law degree, an advert came up in my school. We had a career service for final year students and they needed people to go into the fire service. The role was to help the fire service set up standards and educate the public on the new law.
The task was to let people know there was a law regulating fire safety in the U.K and the public needed to know about the law and what to do; that made me go into it, because I’m really passionate about fire safety and helping people. I just love the dynamics of it which includes- the why of the fire? How it happen?
What we can do to reduce it from coming? This are what made me to tread in this path.
Having worked and lived in U.K for a while, what motivated you in setting up a company here?
Well, I come to Nigeria every year even while I was still in U.K for 30 years. There’s this day I went to one of the markets on Lagos Island, Balogun Market precisely, where some parts of the market were burning down and I tried investigating the cause of the fire; while on this, l started getting fascinated about what was happening in Nigeria including the fire trends and how the authorities were actually dealing with it. Because of the love I have for Nigeria and the desire to contribute my quota to its development, I said Lagos State is the place where I’m going to start from. I started gradually until I finally set up my company- Fire Experts.
There have been a lot of issues of fire happenings in the country but if you look worldwide, there has been greater fire incidents that caught the media attention. One of it is the India fire incident where over 540 people died. Do you think we are emergency ready as a Nation to handle such incident?
For me, I think Nigeria is moving toward preparedness. It is the likes of me, you, and the citizens that are all going to move on it together. Yes, there has been lot’s of fire across the world; but the difference between fire across the world and Nigeria is because the fire stations we have in Nigeria is not enough to actually deal with the emergencies that occur.
I will give you an example- there is a fire station at Ikorodu road. If an incident was to happen on the other side of Ikorodu road, they would have to go and turn to get to the other side of the road.
This explains the reason why no fire service showed up in the recent BRT incident in Ikorodu.
I think LASEMA was there but no fire service was close by because the bus could not have blown into such flames. This still has to do with the proximity of fire stations that we have in Nigeria and Lagos.
Nigeria is another kettle of fish as a whole but Lagos for now we haven’t got enough fire stations. Especially, if you look at the business structure that we have in Lagos, it is not enough to cope with the population that is why we have these incidents of fire fighters been assaulted because they take their time to get to the site of the disaster. The fire fighters in London get to any incident within 8 minutes.
Another issue is that the public in the U.K respects the siren but here in Lagos- that’s not happening.
So What Do You Think Is The Cause Of The Problem?
It is awareness. The masses are not aware- that’s the problem. So we need to do a lot of public orientation and sensitization for people to understand that this thing called fire is an emergency that needs to be dealt with.
Lets talk about your upcoming program; The 3rd Lagos State Fire Safety Summit. what is the motivation behind it?
The motivation was the experience at the Nigerian Breweries- there were 2 incidents that happened in 2017 following each other. I was actually opportune to have led the 2 fire investigations.
After that, we had the Globacom warehouse fire as well and I was opportune to also lead the investigation as well. After doing the first two fire-investigations, I discovered that fire safety is the backbone of the people. However, people just believe that because they’ve insurance, they don’t need any fire safety management planning in place. Yes, you may be insured and your property may be insured with millions of dollars, but you still need to put your safety management plan in place to stop it from happening.
From my investigation of those fire incidents, I made some recommendations to the Lagos Safety commission that sent me there. One of it was that every business building must have a fire risk assessment and there is also a serious need for sensitization members of the public and businesses to be aware of what we call fire safety.
So i approach the safety commission to give me the mandate to organize the first Lagos State Fire Safety Conference in collaboration with other stakeholders.
How was the first conference and when was that?
The very first fire safety conference was organized in October 2017 at LCCI; and it attracted all business sectors across Lagos State. It was a 3-day event and participant testify of the impact on thier business.
What do you think is common in all the fire incidents you have investigated?
Carelessness is the cause of a lot of it. Let me also mention that after an incident, the government hold it to the citizen as part of sensitization to publish their findings.
Every sanction from every fire incident should be put out in order to enable people to have knowledge of who the culprits are as well as what they’ve actually done wrong. This will enable everybody to learn from it.
The next edition of the Lagos State Fire Safety Conference is just few days ahead. What should people look forward to?
People should be looking out for the best and expect to learn a lot. We have lined up experts from the private and public sector to tackle most of these issues.
We have NEMA, Federal Fire Service, Nigeria Bar Association and several other Professional bodies coming on board.
This year’s conference is designed in such a way that we would have a sustainable plan for the state. We want to know where we are going.
There are a lot of questions that will be answered. For example, the Otedola bridge incident– the people that got burnt and the hospitals that took in some of this patients. Nigeria Medical Council (NMC), should be able to tell us how such victims were responded to and other bordering issues.
Also, the Nigeria Bar Association- we want them to have a plan for us.
We want to know the plan of NEMA in collabouration with other emergency agency in case of a serious incident and lots more.
Also we will be hearing from NIA (Nigeria Insurance Association) and other major stakeholders who have also confirmed attendance.
Others coming are the Market leaders and Local Government officials are also inclusive. These and many more are what to expect. We can’t eradicate fire totally but we can minimize it.
What is the major challenge with the industry when it has to do with fire awareness?
It is lack of training. We lack that culture in Nigeria. We don’t invest so much in continuous training. Training has to be a part of requirement for every industry.
Truth is, industries don’t want to spend money, but training on fire safety, first aid and the likes should be of utmost importance as well.
Finally, tell us about Safety Experts?
Safety Experts comprises of both safety and fire consultancy based in Lagos. Safety Experts is also the appointed fire safety administrator for the Lagos State Safety Commission. We consult for both the government and the private sector.
We carry out investigations, training, audit buildings, fire risk assessment for people that cant do it by themselves.