MANILA - Some P2.6 billion for fire stations' upgrade, purchase of firefighting equipment, and modern fire trucks remain unused -- to the detriment of the modernization of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and its firefighting personnel.
A Commission on Audit (COA) report revealed that as of December 2012, the BFP had P2.6 billion in a trust fund that it could have used since 2009 to purchase much-needed facilities and equipment. (For Infographic, click here)
The fund comes from fees collected from the 2008 Fire Code of the Philippines (Republic Act 9514).
The law provides that 80 percent of the fees shall be allocated for the modernization projects of the BFP while 20 percent shall be used by local government units for maintenance and upgrade of local fire stations.
BFP Officer-In-Charge Carlito Romero admitted that the P2.6-billion fund continues to be unspent as of March 2014.
Romero explained that the Fire Code fees were not used because specifications for upgrade of fire trucks and other equipment changed. He said the BFP also wanted to purchase equipment that will be aligned with international standards.
“Isa po iyun sa mga naging dahilan. Iyung mga specification kasi, kailangan kumpleto tayo sa international standards,” he said.
Another reason was a slow procurement process at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) where BFP-proposed projects and purchases amounting to more than P5 million go through.
COA has recommended that "management fast track procurement process for firefighting gears and fire trucks as well as construction/renovation of fire stations for the benefit of the BFP and the public."
The DILG vowed to act on the COA recommendation and the BFP promised to fast-track purchase of firefighting equipment.
But as firefighters await fulfillment of these promises, many of them continue to perform their duties even with inadequate equipment and dilapidated fire stations.
CITIES, TOWNS WITHOUT FIREFIGHTING STATIONS
The Tanduay Fire Station in Manila is one such case.
Established in 1901 under an American Fire Chief, the Tanduay Fire Station is probably one of the oldest stations in the country -- and it looks it.
The two-storey fire station has uneven wooden floorboards. Some have holes in them.
On the second floor, you can see that the ceiling also has holes. Some of its old windows are also broken.
But the Tanduay firefighters do not let the dilapidated state of their station affect the performance of their duty. They said they do not complain too much, for fear of being scolded.
But what the Tanduay firefighters do not know is they need not have settled for what they have now because the BFP could have used the funds from the Fire Code fees to upgrade their station.
“Due to lack of modern fire trucks, firefighting gears/equipment, and inadequate fire stations/facilities, the BFP’s vision of a modern fire protection agency for a safe and progressive society and its mandate of providing adequate personnel, firefighting gears and equipment and facilities in every province, city, municipality nationwide is far from being realized in the coming years,” COA observed.
According to COA, one of the objectives of the BFP is to establish at least one fire station in every provincial capital, city, and municipality in the country.
But COA findings showed that out of total 1,636 cities and municipalities, only 1,015 cities have fire stations, leaving 621 cities without stations.
Even firefighting gear, equipment, and fire trucks are inadequate.
“The shortage of protective firefighting gears and equipment has been hounding the BFP for years. Adding to the problem is the decrease in the inventory of protective gears every year, since old and existing ones deteriorate,” COA said.
The DILG acknowledged the shortage.
DILG records showed that of every 10 firefighters, only 6 have fire coats and trousers; only 5 have helmets and gloves, and only 7 have boots.
“Sa ngayon talaga, dapat hindi nanghihiram kasi iyun ang rule. Kung ano yung uniporme mo iyung ang dapat mong gamitin,” Romero said.
For fire trucks, the COA found that the BFP and the local government units have a total of 1,751 fire trucks as of December 2012. The shortage was pegged at 1,422.
“The acute shortage of fire trucks is replicated nationwide whether it be Luzon, Visayas, or Mindanao. Compounding the problem is that most fire trucks are old and dilapidated,” observed COA.
That is why, Romero said, the BFP is now purchasing new fire trucks that meet international standards.
Recently, the DILG purchased 38 “top-of-the line” Rosenbauer fire trucks that will be distributed to various cities.
DILG Secretary Mar Roxas said he is aware of the sorry state of firefighting facilities and equipment in the country.
“Marami tayong hinahabol dahil maraming pagkukulang sa kakayanan sa gamit sa training. Pero nasimulan na ang proseso para mahabol ito,” Roxas said.
Roxas said before end of the year, the BFP plans to spend some P300 million to purchase fire coats, trousers, helmets, boots, and gloves.
The Bureau plans to buy 30 thermal imaging devices that will help fire fighters determine bodies that may be buried under thick and heavy materials.
But Roxas also admitted that some fire stations, like the Tanduay Fire Station, may still have to wait their turn for upgrade.
Roxas said the bureau will have to prioritize construction of fire stations for cities that still do not have one before focusing on those that already exist but need renovation.