As you drive from the Nairobi-Kenol road, diverting into Murang’a Town, a sign post welcoming you to Murang’a Fire Station stands majestically.
The building housing the fire station was one of the first to be built in this town.
Inside the compound, several firefighting engines are parked in an open field in front of an old gate leading to what the colonialist used as a prison.
The prison, now gazetted as the Old Murang’a Prison, was built in 1952 immediately after the British announced the State of Emergency to contain the Mau Mau fighters, who had started agitating for self-governance.
The 67-year-old building contained the cells, which have been partitioned to create rooms for training firefighters on search and rescue techniques, computer classes, recreational rooms for the fire station staff, and an equipment store.
The Mau Mau Organising Secretary in Murang’a, Mr John Kihiu Mwangi, recalls how those found guilty by the then Kandara court would be jailed in the prison.
When the prison became overcrowded, he told the Nation, it was the only one in Murang’a District (Murang’a County) and yet it had been built to decongest King’ong’o Prison in Nyeri County.
“Most of the inmates were Mau Mau freedom fighters not considered dangerous. Those believed to have been involved in administering oaths were taken to detention camps such as Manyani and Hola,” he said.
The area where the prisoners used to bask is now the training ground for firefighters.
Some cells have been converted into control rooms, the county fire officer’s office, a kitchen and hostels for the men and women who respond to disaster in Murang’a County.
The cells served as a holding centre for Mau Mau convicts bound for King’ong’o Prison, but after the construction of Murang’a prison, they were imprisoned in their home district, as it was then called.
After independence in 1964, the government abandoned the building and built the new prison about a kilometre away. The defunct municipality used it as a workshop for some time before abandoning it.
Murang’a Chief Fire Officer Bilha Wanjiku says she renovated the building, which had become a habitat for wild animals, and which locals who visited the defunct county council offices used to relieve themselves to avoid the charges at public toilets.
After the enactment of 2010 Constitution and the devolution of services like disaster management, she was tasked with finding an appropriate place for setting up a fire station.
As most of the local authority’s offices had been taken up by the county government, she settled on the old prison.
“It was not easy. Soil that filled about 20 lorries was removed. The huge bush was cleared and the snakes driven out using pesticides. We partitioned the cells into offices, training rooms and hostels for our firefighters,” Ms Wanjiku says, adding that she is glad the old prison has been preserved by being put to good use.
Murang’a Fire Station was the best in the country in disaster preparedness and disaster management, according to the Polish Center for International Aid.
Ms Wanjiku hopes the National Museums of Kenya will partner with the fire department to establish a monument with a brief history of the facility, since few people are aware of its rich historical background.
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