Wash. firefighters train crews in Nigeria

They trained 90 Nigerian firefighters to western fire standards and helped put 32 U.S. fire trucks in service

Kitsap Sun

POULSBO, Wash. — A dozen firefighters from Kitsap County and the Pacific Northwest faced more than the danger of fire last month when they went to Nigeria to train Lagos firefighters.

They faced possible kidnapping and mobs that have been known to beat and steal from firefighters, said Edward Wright, a retired Poulsbo firefighter.

Wright, owner of Targhee Fire Services based in Poulsbo, has been training firefighters and emergency responders in Africa through nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits since 2008.

The Nigeria project is the first time he has worked directly with a country paying for the training.

Lagos has a $16.7 million loan through the U.S. Export-Import Bank to work with Targhee Fire and Darley, an American fire equipment company.

“It makes a big difference when they have skin in the game,” Wright said.

Darley has sold its equipment to Lagos and Targhee Fire is training firefighters.

Wright started Targhee Fire in 1997, providing large fire support to the state Forrest Service and training for area firefighters.

Now, Wright’s company is focusing on training overseas.

Targhee Fire trained 90 Nigerian firefighters to western fire standards and helped put 32 U.S. fire trucks in service.

“We did something that has never been done over there,” Wright said.

Last month’s training was the first phase of the project. Local firefighters will be going back to Nigeria, Wright said. For safety reasons, he didn’t want those firefighters to talk to the newspaper or be named.

Police aren’t able to protect firefighters like they are in the United States, and both Nigerian police and firefighters are some of the lowest paid civil servants, Wright said.

Wright and his business partner, Larry White, have had machine guns pointed at them while training firefighters in Nigeria and other African countries.

“It’s a little different from here,” White said. “But some things we just don’t Skype home about.”

White, a local retired attorney, is Targhee Fire’s chief operating officer.

The most successful firefighters that went to Nigeria with Targhee Fire were from smaller departments and had military or overseas experience that wasn’t limited to a vacation in Maui, Wright said.

They understood the conditions in Nigeria and how to work in it, he said.

Lagos is the largest city in Nigeria and one of the fastest growing cities in Africa.

As the population has grown, there has been a struggle to keep up and expand infrastructure.

Not all fire hydrants are connected to the water system, and it is often difficult to get water to a fire.

The 32 new firetrucks taken to Nigeria were “top of the line” with compressed-air foam, which expands and allows firefighters to work with less water.

Wright said the biggest problem for the city is industrial and large-scale apartment fires.

Electricity is unreliable and many residents have generators that start fires when not used properly.

Lagos had more than 500 fires in four months this year, according to The Guardian Nigeria, an independent newspaper.

During Wright and his firefighter’s time in Nigeria a fire destroyed an entire city block of high-rise apartments.

Firefighters also fought a paint factory fire that burned for three days and would have been a five-alarm fire with more than a dozen firetrucks in any U.S. city, Wright said, while the Nigerian firefighters on scene had four firetrucks.

Lagos firefighters also don’t have radios, communicating by pulling on hoses and sending runners back and forth.

While the city is the largest in the country, its economy is as fragile as its infrastructure.

The paint factory fire left hundreds without jobs, Wright said, and working to prevent and control such fires can sway the country’s economic stability.

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