A Week In The Life Of A Nigerian Firefighter

May 19, 2020

“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


The subject for this week is *Kunle, a firefighter. He walks us through duty, sacrifice, and the desire for a better quality of life.

MONDAY:

I wake up by 5:00 am today. I am up early because work resumes by 6:45 am. Before resuming at work, I have to drop my wife at her place of work. So, I wake up early to get a head start.

We run three shifts at work and we take turns rotating through them. I am on morning duty this week and this means that I will be working for 24hrs straight. After this, I will be off duty for 48 hours. 

When I get to work, the first thing I do is check the appliances; the hose, the engine, the fire suits. This is to ensure that they are functioning properly against the next fire emergency call we may get. However, no matter how many precautions we take, sometimes, our appliances still mess up. 

I remember my first day on the job where my crew and I turned out to put off a big fire. When we arrived at the scene, I could see people applauding us for coming so early. Some were even thanking us. I felt so proud to be recognized as a fireman.

Our problem started when it was time to put out the fire and the fire engine for pumping water didn’t work. We tried getting it to work using various methods but still no show. While we were doing this, the crowd was getting angry and they started piling stones to throw at us. As God would have it, another fire truck came around and rescued us. No matter what happens, that single incident is a moment I won’t ever forget.

It can be annoying because we go through so much to get to the fire scene only for the crowd to turn on us. It’s even scarier when I think about it because fire servicemen don’t carry arms and the mob knows this.

For me, fire doesn’t scare me. What scares me is the mob. Fighting the fire is not a problem because we have been trained to do that. Rescuing people is not an issue because you derive joy in doing that. However, doing these things at the site of the operation without any form of protection from a mob is scary. 

All of these are why I spend the first part of my shift inspecting the equipment and ensuring that they are in good working condition. After I am done, I spend the rest of the day sitting with my colleagues and waiting to see if we get a fire call. Sometimes, if we get lucky, there may be no fire. Other times, we respond to 4 – 5 fire calls in one shift. 

No matter what happens, I have a long day ahead of me. 

THURSDAY

I have been off work for the past two days and I am not eager to resume today. I have spent the last two days alternating between resting and spending time with my family. I have been catching up on a series called three percent on Netflix. It’s an old series but it’s still so good. But now, work resumes all over again.

Don’t get me wrong, even though I am hesitant to resume, I still love my job die. I am a proud fireman. Although I didn’t grow up dreaming of putting out fires and rescuing people, I have come to love the work. For me, It started out as a job to do because of the economy. However, during the training school to become a fireman, I fell in love with it. 

As a layman, I used to think fighting fire is to just pour water into the fire. But in the training school, I had to do some Chemistry and Physics to understand what supports fire, the kind of extinguishing element for different types of fires.

Fire contains three elements – air, heat, and fuel. So, if you want to extinguish a fire, you have to take one element out of the three to improve your chances. Also, depending on the cause of the fire, you use a different approach. For electrical fire, you don’t expect to just go there with water because if you do, you can get electrocuted. There are certain steps you need to take if at all you get called up with water to fight an electrical fire. The first thing to do is to put off the source of power before fighting with water. 

If it’s oil fire, that is a fire caused by oil spillage, using water only adds fuel to the fire. This is because oil stays on top of the water. So, as the water is splashing and running, it carries the oil and extends the fuel. In this scenario, the best agent to make use of is foam. It will engulf the fuel; it will contain it by eliminating the air supply. So, wherever the oil has spread to, the foam forms a blanket around it and stops it there.

Before going to training school, I did not know that and I just assumed all fire could be combatted with water.

Another thing this job has shown me is that a lot of fire accidents are caused by negligence. Car fires are caused mostly by issues that have been there but the owner has been ignoring. For residential areas, the majority of house fires are caused by A.C. Not switching off your A.C when you are going out and then electrical power coming on and setting off a spark that starts a fire. The root of every fire is mostly negligence.

I don’t want to think about all of these. I am just focused on surviving my shift. I am looking forward to the weekend. I hope I get to rest but I know my wife will most likely drag me out on Saturday. She enjoys shopping. She defends her reason for making me drive from the mainland to the Island with the fact that shopping is relaxing for her. It’s therapeutic. Women sha. 

Last last, that one is still better than all these fire talk. 

SUNDAY.

The most annoying thing about this job is the disrespect. Disrespect from fellow motorists who will be dragging road with you when you are rushing for an emergency. Disrespect from the mob at the scene of the fire who want to throw stones because we were late as a result of stubborn motorists. 

Today, at the scene of a fire, some of the touts tried to collect our equipment. They wanted to put out the fire themselves. I kept telling them that it’s not their job and they should allow us to work in peace. At the end of the day, we had to reach a compromise. We allowed them to carry less sensitive materials so they could feel useful. Because we don’t carry arms, things can get tricky really fast. So, it’s up to your discretion to navigate these things especially when it comes to the touts at fire scenes. They know that we don’t carry weapons so all we can really do is find a middle ground with them. 

For active fires, a squad puts it out. The squad consists of 4 men. They are numbered 1-4. Number one is the officer in charge, the branch man. Number two is the pump operator and he operates the appliance; pumping water and regulating pressure. Number three is the assistant branch man who assists the branch man and sometimes swaps with him if he’s tired. He also assists in carrying the hose. Number four is the messenger. Sometimes, at the scene of the fire, there is a distance between where the branch is located and the appliance pumping water. The messenger stands as an intermediary between the number 1 and 2. He helps to relay information like turning on of water, an increase in hose length, and adjustment of water pressure.

I am playing the role of assistant branch manager today.  So, I am behind the branch manager(my boss) who’s trying to put out the fire. He’s going too close to the fire and I have to constantly pull him back. He tells me that there’s a spirit that possesses you when holding the branch that makes you want to put out the fire at all costs. Me, I no dey do pass myself. I am not trying to be a hero. 

I can’t wait for this fire to die down because I need to call my wife. I am sure she has been worried about me. I didn’t tell I was going to a fire site. I like telling her after we are done. I can’t stand her being constantly worried because of the nature of my job. 

WEDNESDAY

The funniest question I get asked as a fireman is if I have life insurance. It never fails to crack me up. Ordinarily, we should have but we don’t. For a fireman, the most honorable thing that can happen is to be buried and given salute. And that’s it.

I have heard of families chased out of the barracks on the death of the breadwinner who was an officer. There’s a family where the parents who were officers died. The father died in the line of duty and the mother died in a road accident. After allowing their children to stay in the barracks for a while, they were told to evacuate.

Many officers see this and they know that if they die in the line of duty, this is the fate that will befall their family. I have heard some of my superiors tell me that on getting to the scene of a fire and seeing that there was no chance of putting out the fire, they turned back. They said they met an impossible task and an already agitated mob who were cursing them for being late. It just made sense to turn back without entering into the scene. You can only do what you can do, you can’t kill yourself. At the end of the day, you didn’t set the place on fire.

As I go to work today, I just pray that I return home safely. When my mum heard that I joined the force, she kept on begging me. “O fe ma pana, jor. Ma pà mí”. I consoled myself with the fact that if I don’t do it, someone else will do it – somebody has to do it. 

I remember when I watched one inspiring Chinese movie about firemen titled Brave Heart and I went to work with ginger the next day. After comparing the facilities in that movie with my own surrounding at work, I asked myself: “Is this where I want to give my best to?” I just relaxed oh.

I won’t even lie, there are perks that come with being an officer; I don’t have to constantly renew my car papers. Also, I get away with a couple of things here and there. But that doesn’t balance it out in any way. 

Anyhow, I still show up because I am a fireman. I am dedicated to the job. It’s actually a thing of joy to serve your country if only your country recognizes it. Firemen across the world, the respect they get…I have not been outside the country, but I was told that firemen don’t pay for fares. They go to the supermarket to buy groceries and there’s a certain percentage they get as a discount. Fire service is respected and it’s a very prestigious job In Europe and other countries, but this is the country where I find myself. What can I do?

I don’t want to think about it. I am looking forward to the end of the day. When I get home, I will watch my favourite Bollywood movie “We Are Family”. Even though I have seen it countless times, it’s the perfect bonding movie for a family. Any day I come back home in one piece is a good day. That’s why I try to spend as much time as possible with my family.


Glossary:

“O fe ma pana, jor. Ma pà mí” – You want to be putting out fire, please don’t kill me.

This story was edited for clarity. Some details have been changed to protect the identity of the subject.


Check back every Tuesday by 9 am for more “A Week In The Life Of” goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, don’t hesitate to reach out. Reach out to me: hassan@bigcabal.com if you want to be featured on this series.

Hassan Yahaya

Join The Conversation

Bring a friend.

You'll like this

May 13, 2020

If you’ve ever taken an online course, then you know how hard it can be. And this is you as an adult who knows the importance of these things, let alone a child who just wants to watch Nickelodeon in peace. Curious about how learning has been outside a classroom, I asked Nigerian teachers how […]

Watch

Now on Zikoko

November 30, 2020

Yesterday, many parts of Nigeria experienced a complete blackout. Someone that knows someone that knows someone said it was the national grid that collapsed for the 482819th time. We don’t know why this happens all the time. It just does. So we made a list of things you should do while you’re waiting for them […]

November 29, 2020

The idea of a blind date sounds exciting, but nobody really knows what they’re getting themselves into. It can go rather well or horribly wrong. Let’s tell you a short story. One you probably know too well. 1. You are on your lane when your friends decide to set you up on a date You […]

Nigerian Army testifies SARS panel
November 29, 2020

The Nigerian Army has shared their testimony twice at the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution For Victims of SARS Related Abuses. At Zikoko Citizen, we have been following the “Lagos SARS panel” ever since the panel was inaugurated, and we have also been present at the panel hearing on the two occasions […]

Recommended Quizzes

October 30, 2019

Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys movie got a lot of things right, especially casting, so yes, it was a monster hit. Now, we know you may not have put much thought to this, but the personalities of some of the characters closely match yours, and we would like to help you find the perfect match. […]

November 1, 2019

Twitter is buzzing right now, bringing a new conversation to the concept of cool vs not-so-cool, especially in relationships. If you’ve been thinking about how much of a red flag you are, why don’t you let this quiz help you decide once and for all?

how much of an ajebutter
February 12, 2020

Are you an ajebutter or not? Well, if you’ve gone through life blissfully unaware of its harshness, then you probably are. Now, we want to know just how high you rank on that ajebutter scale, using your food preferences as a (very accurate) measure. Take to find out:

November 22, 2019

It can be very stressful when you’re trying to find the love of your life, but you only keep meeting people that are exactly like your yeye ex. To help you be more aware of that problem, we’ve created a quiz that lets you know the kind of people you are attracting. Take it to […]

November 12, 2019

Are you a single pringle, stuck in a complicated situationship or happily married to the love of your life? This quiz is here to guess your current relationship status, and as you know, Zikoko quizzes are incredibly accurate (don’t quote us). So, give a shot:

More from Hustle

November 17, 2020

“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week. The subject for today’s “A Week In The Life” is *Tola. He collects […]

Watch

Trending Videos

Zikoko Originals

November 2, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
October 26, 2020
A collection of videos documenting some of the events of the EndSARS protests.
June 22, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
June 22, 2020
Hacked is an interesting new series by Zikoko made up of fictional but hilarious chat conversations.
June 4, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
June 2, 2020
Quickie is a video series where everyone featured gets only one minute to rant, review or do absolutely anything.
May 14, 2020
Isolation Diary is a Zikoko series that showcases what isolation is like for one young Nigerian working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
March 12, 2020
Life is already hard. Deciding where to eat and get the best lifestyle experiences, isn't something you should stress about. Let VRSUS do that for you.
February 6, 2020
Who doesn't want to find love? In our bid to help, we paired up a bunch of single Nigerians, sending them on an all-expense paid date, and interviewing them before and after they met.

Z! Stacks

Here's a rabbit hole of stories to lose yourself in:

Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.
X