What is Fire Brigade Approach?

By Adeola Aderounmu. 

Fire is burning down your house! You are so lucky not to be in the house. None of the members of your family was at home too. You do not know the cause of the fire and at this moment, you don’t care about the cause. As you watched helplessly at your house burning, you remembered that there are fire service stations in your locality and you have been so fortunate to have entered the numbers to these stations on your mobile phone.


You called the fire stations and got through to one after 15 minutes. The response was good and the firemen arrived 3 hours after you placed the call. They could not come earlier than that as all the trucks in their possessions are without petrol. They have stopped by at the nearby gas station but due to scarcity of fuel, they had to drive around a while before they were able to finally find a station that has petrol.


You thought arriving late was better than never; perhaps they could savage a few things that haven’t burn. You are dead wrong! Two fire brigade trucks had arrived but the firemen came by to ask you a few questions only. When did the fire start? Do you know where it started from? What could have been the cause of the fire? Are there people inside the house or is it empty? Do you have a kerosene stove or a gas cooker? You got tired of the questions and asked then when they will start to work before the fire spread to the next building.


Neighbours have gathered and started pouring buckets of water from a distance. The water got nowhere near the burning flames. Some children were getting sand as people wailed in loud voices. Some people were thanking God that there was no one in the house as the whole family gathered nearby. The family in the next house got out in good time. They were lucky with their house, the fire could not penetrate further.

Eventually, the firemen declared their inability to help you in any way as everyone including you watched your house burn to mere ashes. They have brought 2 trucks but there is no water in either truck. They didn’t have the time to verify or check if there was water in the truck or not as the call was an emergency one. They became more confused as there was no petrol in the trucks and even one of the vehicles had 3 tyres in place when the call came. The first one hour after the call was spent looking for a road side mechanic who had not finished the fixing of the tires the day before. The second hour was spent looking for gas (or petrol as we used to say) and it took another one hour to drive to the burning house. 

We are so sorry Mr. Lagbaja. You can bear us witness that we took your phone call and acted promptly but since our reservoir got dried 2 weeks ago, we had simply forgot to refill the tanks on the trucks with water until your emergency call came.

Fire Brigade approach is a common expression in Nigeria. Simply put it means that in Nigeria, people (especially when it comes to public services) always wait until the last minute before they take action on something that they should have done a long, long time ago. In the end, we always try to do things when it is almost late. We rally round, try a few urgent steps and we end up messing up the job.  

Typically, the fire brigade or firemen will arrive when everything is already in ruins. Sometimes, families are trapped in the fire. This could result in death or serious burns. In Nigeria football, fire brigade approach is the norm. Our footballers are usually not well blended before each game or tournament. Some of them will arrive a few hours before crucial games. Fire brigade approach is used in virtually of spheres of the Nigeria life and the result is that things are done shabbily and results are unexpected outcomes.  We usually express surprise or dismay at each outcome most especially when they are unfavourable. 

But it is amazing how Nigerians forget and move on with their lives. Our failures in certain areas or endeavours have not stopped us in any way from adopting the same fire brigade approach time and time over. Fire brigade approach is complex and intrinsic. It is like a web that has formed part of our evil entanglement in Nigeria.


You can see it in governance, in sports, in music, in academic endeavours, in our dressing sometimes, in our jobs and other aspects of our lives. We cannot always be prepared for everything but when a larger percentage of our actions are incoherent, the results are bound to be negative.

The fire brigade approach emanates from the unconventional working ethics of the fire stations. Basically, this is their attitude to work. It is their thing. They are always late and never prepared. They are seriously ill equipped. You can compare this attitude to the Nigerian Police in many ways. Sadly, their sickling syndrome has infected many other things in Nigeria and you commonly hear people say “fire brigade approach”. It means they are spending last minutes efforts in trying to solve a problem that has been there forever.  

May the Glory of Nigeria come, soon!