- Associated Press - Saturday, December 24, 2016

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (AP) - During his time visiting Kenya, Prince George’s Deputy Fire Chief Benjamin Barksdale learned that fighting fires in the African nation isn’t quite the same as the work in the United States.

There are only three fire stations to serve a population of about 4?million in the capital of Nairobi, where he stayed. Traffic is so thick that by the time an engine or ambulance arrives to an emergency, it is often too late to help. And while U.S. firefighters are commonly respected and well-liked, he said, residents in Kenya will often take out their frustrations in the face of tragedy on public-safety workers hampered by poor infrastructure and equipment.

“These guys over here would give their right arm for a tenth of what we have,” Barksdale said in a phone interview from Kenya. “The U.S. fire service has no idea how good we have it.”

Barksdale returned last month from a 10-day trip to Kenya as part of the Africa Fire Mission. The program, created by a Cincinnati firefighter, sends U.S. firefighters as volunteer instructors to help the Kenyan fire service improve its fire and emergency medical strategies. This trip was Barksdale’s second tour.

In addition to training local firefighters on public safety and first-aid techniques, volunteers also teach residents about home fire safety. Many live in small shacks or sheds constructed of “whatever they can get their hands on,” Barksdale said. The small spaces can be occupied by six to eight people and often have a cooking pot over coals with clothes and belongings hanging nearby, which creates a fire hazard.

“There’s a huge delay in the services getting there … and the citizens take out their frustration on the firefighters,” Barksdale said. “We’re offering training on how they can help before (firefighters) get there.”

When Barksdale was in Kenya last year, a fire broke out in the city’s slums shortly after U.S. firefighters had trained a Kenyan group on search-and-rescue techniques. At the scene, a firefighter from Kenya immediately ran into a shack and rescued a mother who was asleep with her baby. That same day, a man showed up at the mission’s offices with a cut on his neck. Firefighters gave him first aid and took him to a hospital.

“We’re not here to solve their problems,” Barksdale said. “We tell them from the start, ‘We’re here to give you tools and ideas that can help you solve your problems.’?”

Barksdale said that while there are many differences between the resources firefighters have in Kenya compared with those in the United States, there is one important quality public servants in both places share: “They have the same desire and drive here to do the best they can to provide the best service.”


Information from: The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com

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