‘I’d never seen so many bodies in 23 years as firefighter’
Posted Thursday, September 15 2011 at 22:30
It was 10.35am on Monday morning when the phone call came in to the fire brigade offices on Tom Mboya Street. It was a call from the police. There was a fire at Sinai slums.
It sounded the same as any other fire that firefighter Joseph Oginga, 52, had handled in the 23 years of his career; it first hit him as “another slum fire.”
But Mr Oginga was about to see the most bodies he had ever seen at one location.
The firefighter did not hesitate to ring the alert siren, and made the announcement on the loud speaker to have the firemen and the ambulance on the move towards the sprawling informal settlement.
It never crossed the minds of the rest of the six men on his team that it was the worst inferno in recent times.
But at the back of their minds, were the scathing attack the department receives from the media and the public, Mr Oginga confessed.
The roaring fire engine set out by 10:36am with the six men on board, among them Daniel Irungu and Julius Nyapeni who has been a fire man for six years.
The used Jogoo Road to connect to Lunga Lunga, but on reaching House of Manji factory, the traffic ground to a halt.
The opposite traffic, according to Mr Oginga, was clogged with saloon cars transporting people with burn injuries. Smoke and huge flames bellowed into the sky.
Mr Oginga remembers saying: “Naona hii moto ni mbaya (This fire looks terrible).”
With the help of the public, the fire engine snaked its way until they reached a vantage point.
Mr Oginga already had a strategy on how to cut the fire from spreading.
He noted that a fire engine stationed at Enterprise Road had already gone to the scene, from the other side of the slum near Tetra Pak.
“Were it not for this team already on site, this fire would have spread to Mukuru kwa Reuben which would have been more disastrous,” he told the Nation.
He noted that the fire was spreading in the same direction as the people who were ferrying fuel were moving in two opposite directions; human beings had become mobile fires, igniting other structures in their wake.
Mr Oginga alerted the G4S team to focus on the right side of the fire, while his team concentrated on the left blaze. Soon, his men and were able to contain it.
All this time they had not seen a single body. The steep hill towards the river and the smoke and flames concealed the mounting death toll.