— Is a vibrant fire service department in sight?
Fire service equipment worth a total of US$10 million have begun arriving in the country, aimed at revamping and standardizing the Liberia National Fire Service (LNFS) that has been under tremendous pressure due to a wave of fire outbreaks that have left many homeless, especially Monrovia, in recent years.
The first consignment of equipment, which arrived in the country over the weekend, is a gift from the city Chicago in the United States of America through the Prince Ibrahima and Isabella Freedom Foundation (PIIFF), a US-based Liberian non-for-profit organization.
PIIFF began engaging the city of Chicago since March 9, 2020, for the firefighting equipment which it took delivery of a large consignment of resources. The items include oxygen masks, uniforms, cutting saws, water hoses, tanks, stretchers, fire engines and ambulances.
Through the generosity of Chicago, the firefighting equipment was officially presented to Dr. Artemus W. Gaye, Chief Executive Officer of PIIFF and former president of the Liberian community in Chicago. He said getting the equipment here has not been an easy task. Dr. Gaye says he’s making efforts for the items to be removed and shipped to Liberia by early April this year.
It is anticipated that this huge donation, which comprises several heavy-duty and high-quality pieces of equipment, will help to ease the logistical constraints that the LFS has been faced with for many years. It will also help refurbish or strengthen its local offices across the country.
“I’m glad that the first consignment of the equipment has finally arrived in the country,” Dr. Gaye, who arrived in the country a little over two weeks ago, told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview over the weekend.
“These gifts were given to me and I thought it wise that instead of selling them just to make money for the foundation, I rather share them with my people back home,” he said.
He stressed the need for a vibrant fire service department in the country; a strong emergency response team—whether it be a flood, chemical spill or other catastrophes, there will be prompt interventions.
He also noted that an emergency response training program will be established shortly in order to recruit and train young people who will be trained efficiently.
Liberia has been hit with incidences of fire disasters in recent years. The most deadly of all was the fire that killed dozens of Islamic students in Bassa Town, Paynesville in September 2019. During that incident, officers of the unequipped LNFS apparently could not mobilize to contain the blaze which started that fateful night.
“It was this disaster that provoked our engagement with the City of Chicago in order to help the LNFS. That incident was too terrible for me and could not hold back, but decided to do all I could in my weak ways to be of help,” Dr. Gaye said.
Deeply touched by the deadly incident, Dr. Gaye and former Liberian Consul General in Chicago, Alexander Gbayee, began engaging the US city authority to help curb Liberia’s frequent fire disasters.
And then the city, after rounds of engagements, agreed to make the donation of the equipment but requested that the Liberian community will bear the full cost of shipping them to Liberia,” Dr. Gaye disclosed.
“Our tasks, according to the City of Chicago, were to bear full legal and financial responsibilities in logistics and payment of the shipment to Liberia,” he stated.
Through PIIFF, he disclosed that the City of Chicago is interested in building a “regional threat and disaster management training academy for West Africa”.
This facility, he noted, will help us train emergency workers, firefighters, and other personnel involved in public security or safety. This could be the first of its kind in the West African region or Africa as a whole, he said.
As an ethicist, Dr. Gaye believes in the tremendous roles small organizations, such as PIIF, can play in building a vibrant society.
The arrival of the equipment is in fulfillment of a promise made by the state of Chicago Fire Department that it would help strengthen the capacity of its Liberian counterpart, the LNFS. The LNFS was also promised the provision of equipment and logistics as well as rebranding and establishing a medical department within the LNFS.
These promises followed Col. Alex Dickson’s visit to the US in May of this year following an invitation from the Liberian community in Chicago, led by PIIF CEO, Artemus Gaye.
While in the US, the LNFS boss met with Chicago Fire Chief Richard C. Ford, II. where the two discussed issues about the future of fire service in Liberia.
The Chicago Fire department is the second-largest fire department in America with some of the best firefighters and paramedics.
Getting the equipment to Liberia did not come without some challenges as efforts to get the Liberian government to undertake the shipping cost of the equipment to Liberia proved futile.
In early July 2019, Dr. Gaye disclosed that he shared the news of the huge donation with the Liberian government through the office of the President to the LNFS.
He took a trip to Liberia in October 2019 to convince the government to fund the shipping of the equipment, which he considers “a great gesture for the greater common good of Liberia beyond politics”.
But the government lost interest and stated that it didn’t have the capacity or funds, which was estimated at US$150,000, to transport the materials.
The City of Chicago was constrained to donate the firefighting equipment to Mexico and Porto Rico after Liberia’s failure to meet its obligations to benefit from the gesture. “I got so disappointed but I thought I could do better next time,” he said.
“Nevertheless, we did not give up and went back to convince the city of Chicago to give us the second chance,” Dr. Gaye said.
“On March 1, 2020, we received a call from Mr. Patrick H. McDermott, the president of the International Training Force, to begin the process of removing and shipping these valuable items to Liberia.”.
This time Dr. Gaye and his partners began generating US$150,000 to ship five 40ft containers, three 53 footers (cooling trailers), one school bus, five watercraft (boats), one semi-truck, four-light vehicles, medical supplies, and other items.
He expressed gratitude to Mayor Laurie Lightfoot, Fire Commissioner Richard C. Ford II, and Alderman Chris Taliaferro of the 29th ward of Chicago, chairman of Public Safety. The LNFS boss, Col. Dickson, confirmed the arrival of the equipment in the country in a phone interview with the Daily Observer but added that he will officially speak to the press when the equipment is offloaded from the Freeport of Monrovia.