Vice-presidential frontrunner Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero said the government should match the bravery and courage of close to 19,000 firefighters in the country with protective gears and firefighting equipment to ensure their safety while they protect people’s lives and properties from the hazards of fire and other emergencies.
Unfortunately, he said, many of these firefighters remain ill-equipped because their higher ups have failed to provide them the much-needed gears and equipment despite the availability of funds.
“Firefighters put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. Therefore, it is not right that we deprive them of basic necessities to allow them to effectively perform their duties,” Escudero said in time for the observance of National Fire Prevention Month this March.
He added: “While it is the duty of the firefighters to protect lives and properties, it is also the duty of the government to make sure that they are protected and well-equipped to respond to fires.”
Escudero put to task the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for the delays in the procurement of P3.86 billion worth of modern firefighting equipment, fire trucks and facilities by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).
Citing the latest report of the Commission on Audit (COA), Escudero said the DILG’s intervention in the procurement process resulted in the failure of the BFP to modernize the country’s firefighting capabilities, which should have begun four years ago.
“The purchases of new fire trucks and firefighting equipment and the construction of new fire stations were supposed to have started as early as January 2012, but according to COA the DILG sat on the bidding process for two and a half years,” Escudero said.
In its 2014 audit report, the COA pointed out that the long delay in procurement had deprived the “firefighters of the shield and armor to be used during fire suppressions and a well-equipped fire station.”
It, however, practically absolved the BFP when it acknowledged the effort exerted by the bureau “to provide each and every firefighter with adequate firefighting gears, equipment and fire stations.”
Records of the BFP showed that it has a total of P3.86 billion for its modernization plan broken down as follows:
P2.59 billion for 244 units of fire trucks with 1,000-gallon capacity and 225 units with 500-galon capacity;
P1.01 billion for the construction of 516 fire stations;
P194.5 million for self-contained breathing apparatus and protective gears;
P65.8 million for additional vehicles firefighting equipment.
The COA said that because of the delay, the BFP failed to receive 9,000 pairs of fire boots, 6,741 helmets, 7,628 pairs of protective mittens, fire hoses, nozzles, office computers and spare parts for broken down fire trucks.
Protected gears are designed to mitigate “adverse environmental effects” to firefighters, guarding them against burns and preventing them from inhaling poisonous and deadly gases, according to the COA.
It added that ill-equipped firefighters are forced to share or borrow from their colleagues to respond to the fire scene, and more often than not, result in many otherwise preventable, incapacitating injuries and sickness among the ranks of the BFP’s firefighters.
As of April 2015, the BFP reported that there are a total of 18,769 registered firefighters in the country./Office of Senator Chiz Escudero