Vakaturaga i Navakavu, Natabaivalu, vua na Turaga Rokobaleni;
Honourable Minister for Local Government, Housing & Community Development;
Fellow Cabinet Ministers;
The NFA Board Chairman and Directors;
The Chief Executive Officer, Management and Staff of the National Fire Authority;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today to commission your new fire station and a brand-new fire truck to serve the Lami community — including its surrounding industrial areas and settlements.
It was only last month we all read the story of a family of eight whose home was claimed by a fire right here in Lami –– exposing the life-saving need for a station such as this one. Thank God, no lives were claimed to that blaze. But, too often, lives are lost to house fires across this country. It’s the duty of the NFA to prevent fires and protect Fijians from fires when they do occur. And as communities expand and grow, our ability to respond to fires quickly and forcefully must grow with them. That means we need to have the proper equipment. And our firefighters need the proper training. And we have to give our firefighters the means to remain in top physical condition—because, as we all know, fighting fires is hard work. It requires courage and physical strength.
Ladies and gentleman, we selected this location for this new fire station carefully. Time is critical when it comes to saving lives and preventing property damage in a fire, and we have set a national objective of responding to fire calls within five minutes. That means it is critical to place fire stations close to where large numbers of people live and work and make fire stations an integral part of those communities.
The Lami Fire Station is the 20th fire station my government has established around the country—the latest at Nakasi, which we commissioned nearly two months ago. In fact, my government has supported NFA to establish eight new fire stations within just the last five years—in Korolevu, Korovou, Seaqaqa, Taveuni, Savusavu, Rakiraki, Nakasi, and now in Lami.
And I want to stress that when I said that these fire stations need to be integral parts of their communities, I was referring to their broader mission. We are accustomed to seeing our fire fighters when they respond to fires. We hear the sirens, we see them fighting the flames and entering buildings to save peoples’ lives. But our fire fighters are also in the front lines of preventing fires. They inspect our buildings to make sure they conform to building codes designed to prevent fires. They educate communities on fire prevention—on handling electricity, on managing controlled burning, on eliminating fire hazards in the home or the business. And all of this is accomplished much more effectively when a fire station is a part of the community.
That is very important in Lami because of its growth. In its planning for service to the Lami community, the NFA has identified its primary risk areas—that is, the areas that require particular attention. That list includes a kindergarten, nine primary schools, three secondary schools, sixteen formal and informal settlements, and 159 registered businesses.
With a fire station in Lami itself, response time has come down dramatically, and the challenge of attending to fire calls in Lami during heavy traffic peak period along the Lami Suva corridor will be a thing of the past.
To the Lami community and to Fiji as a whole, let me assure you today, that my government will stop at nothing to ensure that the safety of our people and their properties are well protected from the devastating impact of fires.
I don’t mind telling you that I hope never again to have to console a family for the loss of loved ones. I hope never to have to say words of encouragement to a business owner who has lost everything they have worked a lifetime to build. And I am determined never to have to explain to school children why they weren’t safe from fire in their own school.
So we build these fire stations. And we strengthen our fire codes. And we give our firefighters the best training and support we can give them. But as impressive as these achievements are, there still remains much more to do.
Families, businesses and properties in this country remain very much at the risk of fires. And our firefighters will tell you, the best way to prevent fires is for ordinary citizens to act responsibly—to understand the risk of fire and take steps to eliminate that risk. If people exercise care, if they follow the NFA’s guidance, if they respect our fire codes, and if they just use common sense, we can prevent a great deal of loss—not just property, but human lives as well. So I urge all business and residential owners and the community at large in Lami to take full advantage of this new fixture in your community. Seize this opportunity to learn more, to be more conscious of fire safety, and to support the work of your community fire fighters.
In 2019 alone, NFA responded to more than 1,375 fire incidents around the country. That includes 140 structural fires, and according to the NFA, 30% of these structural fire incidents had an electrical cause. There were 170 small fires, 986 fires involving burning of unwanted vegetation, rubbish, grass and sugarcane. And there were 79 vehicle fires. Unfortunately, we know that many businesses and home owners were never able to truly rebuild from the ashes.
Additionally, Ladies and Gentlemen, also in 2019, a total of 2,648 ambulance runs were made for road accident victims, fire victims and emergency medical situations. But these don’t tell the whole story. We should not forget that, while it is true that fire does not discriminate between rich and poor or old and young, the people most at risk are not those living in modern houses with expensive appliances and insurance to protect them, but the most vulnerable within our society – older people, those who are living alone and those whose behaviours, lifestyles or housing puts them at greater risk.
The recent spate of fires around Fiji is alarming, and is of great concern to me and to my Government. I want to see much deeper collaboration between the NFA, local governments and other local service providers to prevent fires and improve our ability to respond to them when they occur.
NFA will soon introduce an integrated community approach towards fire safety. This approach will focus on bringing fire-safety preparedness to every community so that everyone is able to actively participate in ensuring that their home and their surrounding community are fire-safe and that they are better prepared in the event of a fire.
That effort begins with facilities like this one. Government has invested $2.1 million into this new fire station. It includes a meeting room, dormitories for male and female fire fighters, a fitness gym facility, office space, storage rooms for specialized equipment and a brand new fire truck with the latest in fire-fighting technology.
I also want to remind everyone that the National Fire Authority doesn’t just fight fires. It also has major responsibility for mounting rescue operations after serious road accidents, for containing the risk and damage of hazardous materials, for flood and swift-water rescue operations, for providing emergency ambulance services and first aid assistance, and for carrying out urban search and rescue operations.
And most significantly, it plays a vital role in the country’s emergency and disaster operations. So extending the NFA into communities, in facilities that can withstand the kinds of winds and surges we have seen all too often recently, is vital to our national security and the welfare of our citizens.
Ladies & Gentlemen, across the country, we have other construction projects that are ready to begin. These are projects for which approvals have been sought and every box has been ticked, save for the ground-breaking.
Take for example, the new Nakasi Police Station. By pressing forward with its construction, we’re creating 200 jobs that last two years, allowing those Fijians to earn a living. And when it’s all said and done, we will have built a new police station so our children will not have to, we’ve created a source of employment for the new police officers we’re committed to hire, all while paying the salaries of construction workers the entire way.
And so, of course we build. We build here and in other communities where we need health services, police presence, fire protection, offices, and courtrooms to administer justice. It was always necessary, but especially now, when it means jobs for Fijians at a time when we desperately need those jobs. There are many hard-working Fijians who have skills our country needs to give us the infrastructure we need.
Government is uniquely able to honor those hard-working Fijians by giving them the opportunity to work and earn their living. We show them respect by asking them to devote their skills to projects that serve the public good well into the future. We pay them wages that they use to buy the things they need for daily living, which gives income to others. And when we emerge from the current emergency, we will not have lost a year to indecision and hand-wringing. We will be enjoying the fruits of thoughtful strategic investment in our future.
And I can say with confidence that the future of the people and businesses of Lami Town are more secure today than they have ever been because we have built this station and equipped it so that the fire fighters here can protect them. But your fire fighters here in Lami cannot do it alone. They need you to help them help you. Fire Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and you need to work with them to keep your community safe from the destructive impact of fire.
To the Firefighters who will be staffing this new Station – Our trust is upon you. You have been trained and skilled to provide the best service to the Lami community to the best of your ability and to look after your new fire station.
You are responsible for enforcing the laws, teaching fire-safety awareness to the families and business communities who depend on you—and for creating a culture of fire safety. I wish you all the best.
On this note, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to declare this new Lami Fire Station officially open.
May God bless you all. Vinaka vakalevu.