Presidential Proclamation No. 115-A declares March as Fire Prevention Month, and while the country is urged to observe the advocacy, lackadaisical obedience and futile slacktivism stump the considerably significant crusade. A prelude to saving lives, properties and prized dreams, Fire Prevention Month has been practically, over the years, relegated to sheer observation or celebration—the yearlong compliance that should be a learned lifestyle a fabled tale lost in ashes.
In 2018, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) recorded a total of 14,316 fires in the country, with Metro Manila accounting for 3,943 of the incidents. The total was a slight increase of .84 percent compared to the number in 2017. However, stunning were the 425 fires that erupted in cold December. Though 25 percent lower compared to the figure in 2017, the total of number of deaths related to fire in 2018 was still sizable at 222.
Ushering 2019, a January fire gutted about 800 houses and left 1,018 families reeling at their coastal village in Orion town, Bataan. Two kids were reportedly playing with matchsticks, but local officials bared the incident was aggravated by hidden manmade explosives used in illegal fishing. The low tide and constricted streets for fire trucks colluded to trigger the biggest fire in Bataan’s recent history. Lives were spared, a miracle. Relocation for the informal settlers, a debacle.
BFP and other abecedarian agencies submit in their reports numerous information drives conducted in schools and communities, but a quick glance of BFP’s website reveals more information on vacant positions and technical forms rather than comprehensive data and strategies on fire prevention. Local fire stations pursue the same line of remoteness with their hotlines still utilizing landline numbers which are outmoded and inaccessible to the common household and man on the street.
Reports of fire stations accepting bribes to bend into issuing fire clearances to irresponsible establishments despite lack of safety measures (fire exit, directional signs, fire extinguisher, etc.) conflate the local situations onto one, bleak, national issue. More than the shows, parades, trainings and lectures, BFP must get back to basic: accessible information, reachable stations, upright inspection officers.
Among the many hazards that disaster-weary Philippines is perennially enduring, fire is the one preventable. Local government units can foil loss of lives and properties with strict implementation of fire code in all business establishments. As for the public, we have suffered enough on inflation and floods for us to disregard that vigilance at home is paramount.