Ni sa Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I am here today to launch and commission with you a new Integrated Community Fire Warden & Emergency Response Framework for one simple reason: Preventing fires and putting an end to the loss of life and destruction of property that come with unwanted fires has to be a priority for Fiji.
This is a national effort, and I would like to acknowledge the Yako Village Community for leading the way—for being the first community in Fiji to adopt this new Framework. I proudly congratulate the Taukei Nakaria, and the Vanua of Yako for taking this important step.
This is a huge undertaking for our country, because Fiji has been plagued by far too many fires in homes and businesses for far too long.
The National Fire Authority of Fiji is a first-rate organization, staffed by dedicated and skilled firefighters and led by capable people who think first about saving lives and serving their fellow Fijians. I want to thank them for their hard work and selfless dedication in the face of enormous risks. But we cannot wait until we need to pull a fire alarm or make an emergency call to think about fighting fires. The best way to fight fire is to prevent fire, and that is a job for all citizens, not just our professional firefighters.
It is for that reason that the National Fire Authority of Fiji has created this mechanism to involve citizens and communities in the work of fire prevention. Our firefighters cannot be everywhere at once. They do their best, but they may not be able to arrive at a fire on time to save a life or salvage a property.
That is also why the NFA has been busy educating the public about fire safety and has enlisted the public in the task of preventing fires.
Through this new, integrated approach to fire safety, every local community can join with government agencies and businesses to make us all safer. It has been brought to life through this Framework, which focuses on bringing fire safety and preparedness to every community. That means that every Fijian is able to actively help ensure that their home and their surrounding community are fire safe.
Quite frankly, the number of fire incidents around Fiji is alarming, and it has me deeply concerned. The loss of life, property and savings creates lasting pain for the victims of fire, some of whom suffer life-long injuries, and yet we know that most fires can be prevented if we all show the proper respect for the causes of fire. It is a fact that most fires are not acts of God; most fires are the result of carelessness, ignorance or vandalism, and that means they can be prevented with proper education, guidance and vigilance.
We are only two months into 2021, and we have already had a total of 20 house fires in Fiji. This may be shocking, but it is not unusual: Last year we had 16 house fires in January and February. Fires cost us nearly $13 million in property damage in 2020 and more than $22.1 million in 2019.
But we need to go beyond the statistics, because with each of these fires is a human story. Just this week, a house fire in Nadele, Sabeto—not far from here—claimed the lives of an elderly couple and their 5-month old grandchild. The fire had occurred at 1:00 in the morning, while the family was sleeping. It was tragic. And most likely, it was preventable.
Investigations have revealed that 77% of the fires attended to by the National Fire Authority are caused by electrical mishaps, arson, unattended cooking and mishandling of matches. In 2020, 35% of all fire incidents related to electricity, making electrical mishaps the number-one cause of fires.
In 2019, NFA conducted more than 400 community awareness programs, nearly 26,000 house-to-house visits and more than 500 programs in schools. That was followed by nearly 6,500 community awareness programs in 2020.
The education program appears to be succeeding, because structural fires declined slightly in 2020. But still, the vast majority of structural fires were residential, making it as true as it ever was that fire safety must begin in the home.
In fact, the decline in the number of structural fires from 2019 to 2020 was almost entirely because we had fewer commercial fires. Businesses gladly engaged the NFA to conduct commercial training programs, and we have seen clear progress.
This is the reason for the development of this Framework, which will be put to work in communities all over Fiji. The new Integrated Community Framework will empower your communities to take ownership of fire safety in your homes and prepare you to deal with fire and other emergencies.
I understand that 32 other communities across Fiji in the West, Central and Northern Divisions are also ready to roll out the Framework that we are launching today. So we are off to a good start, and I encourage all communities around the country to come onboard and be part of this great journey.
I was informed that the Yako Community has selected 31 volunteers to be their Fire Wardens and to carry out fire safety compliance and surveillance works for Yako Village. I would like the volunteers who are here today to please stand so we can thank you.
I commend the commitment and hard work of all of you who have offered your valuable time for the safety of your homes and your community and have undergone two full weeks of training. This is a wonderful way of showing your love and concern for your friends, family and neighbors.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Preventing fires is a community responsibility. A fire in your house can spread to your neighbor’s house and beyond. A property left vacant and unattended can invite vandalism. Faulty wiring, an overloaded electrical circuit, or an unattended cook stove can lead to tragedy. So I urge you all: Embrace this opportunity to work with our brave firefighters to make unwanted fires a rarity in Fiji. Learn how to stay safe. Then stay aware. Think about fire safety. Watch out for your neighbors. Learn to recognize trouble before it starts.
This is the true community spirit–the spirit of volunteering, to work with authorities to build safe and healthy communities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to officially launch and hand over to you our first Integrated Community Fire Warden & Emergency Response Framework, and I congratulate you for this initiative. In this way, we serve the entire nation—community by community.
May God bless us all.
Thank you. Vinaka vakalevu.