urban fire disaster: a case study of port harcourt

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  • 90 Pages
  • ₦5000
  • 1-5 Chapters




Fire has been quite critical in the daily life of mankind from time immemorial.  Traditionally fire was used in landscape modification such as coppicing basket materials, clearing bush for ease of travel and hunting, removing thatch in late fall to promote wildflower seeds, clearing ground for food gathering as well as general burning to revitalize plant communities for greater abundance. Fire has also been previously used for cooking, steam bending wood, hunting, smoking hides and meat to preserve, softening tar and pitch for adhesive, heat treating stones for tools, wood working, charcoal burning, charring to preserve house posts from insects and rot, smudge fires to repel mosquitoes, fire to repel predators, heating shelters, lighting, smoking tobacco and medicines, cauterizing wounds, communication signaling, steaming and during ceremonies. Fire is today considered as being a significant tool for humans by playing the most important roles in daily lives including heating, lighting, cooking, energy, blacksmithing and landscaping.

Nigeria as a developing country is characterized by increasing industrial and urban growth leading to greater use of materials and energy. These industrial products trigger fires through scientific processes hence triggering fire cases. Several cases of fires have occurred with mostly destruction of property and loss of lives being reported. Urban disasters especially fires have tended to receive a baffling lack of response from aid agencies indicating major gaps in urban preparedness. This shows Nigeria is faced with inadequacy in responding to fire disasters of high magnitude. Rescue teams have failed in many of this occasions to live up to their billing by either arriving late at tragedy struck scenes or making it on time but half equipped hence failing to counter the tragedy.

Chapter one has outlined the problem in that fires have frequently occurred in different commercial buildings leading to several deaths and destruction of property hence raising questions as to occupants’ safety.

Chapter two reviews literature related to fire safety in terms of prevention, mitigation and preparedness and the essentials of these in commercial buildings. These were obtained from books, journals, newspaper supplements, internet and online databases.Chapter three presents Research methodology which will be through questionnaires, interviews and observations. This will fulfill the researchers aim to raise awareness as to fire safety problems relating to commercial buildings.

Chapter Four presents the results of the study which have been discussed under thematic sub- sections in line with research objectives. The themes include; assessing fire Safety measures adopted by owners of buildings, assessing level of preparedness among the occupants in the buildings, assessing the level of preparedness of local authorities and providing recommendations on Mitigation measures to improve on Fire Safety in the buildings. The most important findings are that most buildings lack enough fire equipment, most owners/managers/occupiers and local authorities are ill prepared to handle fire emergencies, and that education of all stakeholders will play a vital role in improving fire safety.

Chapter Five presents the summary of findings, conclusions and recommendations for the study. It was established that adequate fire safety measures are not in place and therefore ought to be established. It recommends that owners and property managers should involve fire experts in fire safety, inspection of the firefighting infrastructure, and enhancing Fire safety measures and programmes. Areas for further research are also suggested including compliance level or aspect of building owners and property managers to the relevant fire by laws, effect of design on preparedness and mitigation measures adopted by owners and property managers and fire preparedness and mitigation in residential buildings where most fires occur.


Table of Content


1.2Background of the problem
1.3Statement of the problem
1.7Study Area


2.0Literature Review
2.3 to 2.9


3.2 The reconnaissance survey
3.3 Selection of house hold and respondents
3.4 Design of Questionnaire
3.5 Statistical analysis and result
3.6 Problem of Data Collection

4.2Socio demographic profile of respondents
4.3Household waste generation and management
4.4 Awareness on waste Management

5.2 Summary and Major finding
5.3 Conclusion





1.1 Study Background

Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion releasing heat, light and various reactive products (Pyne, 1982). Fires start in three main ways i.e. accidents (misuse of appliances), deliberate ignition and equipment failure (electrical malfunction) and produce smoke and toxic gases which could be extremely fatal to those exposed to it hence the need for prevention and protection from spreading fires by for instance delaying ignition period to allow people more time to escape and for the fire brigade to arrive at the incident. Fire can make homes unsafe. It can lead to the collapse of houses, loss of property or even death (Supermedia, 2011). Port Harcourt’s industrial area for instance suffered massive losses due to electric failures in November, 2012 after a Nigeria power substation caught fire forcing the company resort to rationing(Muchira, 2012).


Several cases of fire incidences have previously occurred in Nigeria with most of them having been fatal. The cases include the 2009 fires in Nakumatt Downtown in Port Harcourt on 28th January 2009, Sachanguan in Molo District on 31st January, 2009, Bombolulu High School fire, Matayos petrol tanker fires in 2009, fires in Muthurua slums and the 2006 Fire incident at Elburgon where 7 members of the family burned beyond recognition and the Fire incident at Libra House in Port Harcourt where 11 workers died and three remained missing (unidentified bodies) the same year. Prior incidences listed also involved the 2005 Wild fire in Rift Valley (which caused Extensive environmental and ecological damage though no human life was lost), the 2004 Fire at the City Hall, Port Harcourt where the entire 3rd floor and valuable documents and property worth KShs.70 million were destroyed, the 2001 Fire at Kyanguli Boys (Machakos) where 68 students burnt to death and property destroyed, the 2001 Fire at Free Market (Uhuru Park– Port Harcourt) where the entire market and property was destroyed by fire, the 1998 Petrol Tanker explosion along Port Harcourt/Busia road where 36 people died, the 1990 Fire at Lamu where 20 people died, the 1982 Fire at Port Harcourt where 10,000 people were affected and the 1982 Fire at Lamu where 4,000 people were affectedamongst others (Republic of Nigeria, 2009).


Several fire occurrences have since been reported in Nigeria such as the Sinai slums where over 100 people died and between January-March 2011 where an estimated population of 25,000 people was left homeless from what was perceived slow response from authorities and agencies. It was observed that urban fire disasters receive a baffling lack of response from aid agencies whenever it occurs indicating major gaps in urban preparedness(UN Habitat, 2011). This shows that Nigeria is faced with inadequacy in responding to fire disasters of high magnitude. Rescue teams have failed in many of the occasions to live up to their billing by either arriving late at tragedy struck scenes or making it on time but half equipped hence failing to counter the tragedy. In most cases failure to have a comprehensive disaster policy had made responses to high risk events such as fire, floods, drought, epidemics and accidents slow or poorly co-ordinated and unnecessarily expensive that even at some point leading to more problems (Kigunda, 2012).


1.1.1 Area of Study

Port Harcourtis the third largest city in Nigeria after Lagos of western Nigeria. It is the capital of Rivers State and the headquarters of Port HarcourtCity. It is one of the three cities in Nigeria created under the Urban Areas and Cities Act, 2011. It is the largest city in Rivers State and second most important city after Lagos.

Source: Draft Port HarcourtCity Integrated Development Plan


Port Harcourt lies in Port HarcourtCity which has an area of 395km² with a population density of 1000 persons per km². The Housing sector is vibrant in Port Harcourt with the Public sector having implemented 93 housing projects in the plan period 2002-2008. The private sector has equally put up more housing programmes in the city both residential and commercial. Disaster management is thus gaining momentum in the city. Several accidents identified as susceptible to people in the city have been classified as road, railway, water, air and fir accidents. The government has therefore recommended equipping buildings, vehicles, trains and lake vessels with firefighting equipment to avert fire accidents. The challenge has however been lack of vehicles and inadequate trained personnel to handle emergencies (Republic of Nigeria, 2008).



Though Port Harcourt has not encountered much of fire outbreaks that have occurred in other places it is imperative that they have adequate preventive and mitigation measures in place just in case they are caught up unawares. Some of the worst nearby fires that have occurred include fires from the petrol tanker along Port Harcourt in 1998 (Republic of Nigeria, 2009).


Port Harcourt Municipal Council has a fully charged City Engineers Department which is charged among others with ensuring all buildings within the municipality conform to the building standards and safety measures are in place. They have set themselves 30 minutes of response to any disaster and/or fire outbreaks. Among fire safety measures the municipal council targets achieving include fire inspections, installation of fire extinguishers in the Town hall and the inspection of buildings within the municipality fire brigades (City Council of Port Harcourt, 2012).


1.2 Statement of the Problem

Fires are known to be crucial in peoples’ lives and have been used mainly for cooking, lighting and heating. Fires have also been known to be dangerous in man’s life. Several properties in Nigeria worth millions of shillings have been destroyed to irrecoverable states and lives lost due to outbreak of fires. Since it is difficult to predict fire outbreaks, mitigation is essential to reducing the loss of homes, property and resources especially in the urban interface. Communication, planning processes, tactics and materials development is critical in dealing with incidences of fire occurrences. Frameworks for mitigation should be put in place in order to reduce hazard exposure. Fire prevention is also important in fire management and it requires identification of fire hazards, regular inspections, appropriate signage, education and training as well as assigned roles and qualifications. Every building owners need to put in place fire prevention plan measures to guard against any future eventuality (Pyne, 1982).


A fire disaster preparedness plan ranges from a broad mitigation and preparedness strategy to a detailed contingency plan for responding to the fire hazard. In most plans, the operational priorities need to save human life, meet people’s emergency needs (principally medical care, food, shelter and clothing) and restore facilities that are essential for health, safety and welfare (e.g. hospitals, water and sanitation, power and transport). Rehabilitation and reconstruction are also likely to be included in more strategic plans, although in practice they tend to be poorly integrated with emergency response (UN Habitat, 2002).


The World Bank and US Geological Survey estimated that economic losses worldwide from natural disasters in the 1990s could be reduced by $280bn if $40bn were invested in preparedness, mitigation and prevention strategies (Dilley and Heyman, 1995). On the Nigerian case most buildings have been lacking fire prevention and mitigation plans. Occupants of building have also fallen victims to fires due to perceived lack of preparedness. This has increased exposure to frequent fire disasters which have led to loss of lives and properties. It’s against this background that this study sought to examine whether past occurrences of fire disaster had elicited establishment of prevention and mitigation measures in business premises in Port Harcourt.


1.3 Purpose of the Study

The problem that this research sought to address was assessing the level of prevention, mitigation and preparedness in commercial buildings against fire risk as envisaged in different government policy instruments with a view to recommending appropriate measures. Issues addressed in this research study include assessing mitigation measures adopted by owners of buildings, level of preparedness among the occupants, owners and managers of commercial buildings and recommending strategies to improve on mitigation and preparedness in the occupancy of those premises.


1.4 Study Objectives

The main goal of this study was to determine how frequent fire occurrences had influenced mitigation and preparedness among those occupying commercial premises.

Specific objectives include;

  1. To assess fire Safety measures adopted by owners of buildings in Port Harcourt.
  2. To assess level of fire preparedness among the occupants of the buildings in Port Harcourt.
  • To assess the level of fire preparedness of local authority in Port Harcourt.
  1. To assess the level of perception of satisfaction of building owners, occupants and the local authorities on fire preparedness and mitigation measures in Port Harcourt.


1.5 Research Questions

  1. What Fire safety measures have been put in commercial buildings in Port Harcourt?
  2. What is the level of fire risk preparedness among occupants of Commercial Buildings in Port Harcourt?
  • What is the level of fire preparedness of the local authority in Port Harcourt?
  1. What is the perception on the level of satisfaction on mitigation and preparedness by the building owners, occupants and the local authorities on fire preparedness and mitigation in Port Harcourt?


1.6 Significance of the Study

This study was undertaken after several rampant cases of fires had been reported in different parts of the country hence raising fears on the issue of fire preparedness and safety measures in place. This study thus sought to investigate fire risk mitigation and preparedness among occupants of commercial buildings. The findings and recommendations of this study can give policy makers in the City Council of Port Harcourt, owners of buildings as well as occupiers the information useful in making and redefining fire safety in their premises hence enhancing awareness.


1.7 Scope of the Study

This study covered fire safety, preparedness and mitigation in commercial buildings in Nigeria. The study was narrowed down to cover commercial buildings in Port Harcourt. Factor identification was done on prior knowledge upon which emphasis was on preparedness and mitigation measures adopted by building owners, managers and occupants as well as preparedness of the local authorities.

1.8 Definition of Key Terms


Mitigation         –


long-term, pre-disaster planning which involves repeated  expenditures on structural and non-structural issues in an attempt to reduce or eliminate future risks.
Preparedness – a state of readiness to respond to a disaster, crisis, or other fire


emergency situation.
Fire Protection – study and practice of mitigating the unwanted effects of


potentially destructive fires.
Fire Safety       – putting in place appropriate fire equipment, management of exit


routes and proper management of spaces.
Risk                 – it is effect of uncertainty on objectives or any undesirable event
  associated with work that can jeopardize the realization of the


Fire prevention-


programmes intended to reduce sources of ignition.
Fire      – it is a natural phenomenon that occurs whenever a combustible fuel comes into conduct with oxygen at an extremely high



Fire assembly pointan assembly ground where people gather in case of fire to take

roll call


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