A pastor’s passion for fire-fighting

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Pastor Shalom Shobande is an angry man. No, he wasn’t defrauded by a Smart Alec, neither was his church deserted by the faithful congregants. What daily bothers Shobande’s heart, causing him untold heartache, is that most Nigerians are still very ignorant of basic fire prevention methods, with many individuals, factories and corporate organisations daily losing property worth millions of naira to infernos that could have been prevented or easily curtailed.

“Nigeria is a country where people believe so much in God, which is not bad,” says the pastor. “You hear people say things like, ‘I cover my office with the blood of Jesus,’ and they will do nothing to prevent fire. But the question I ask in such situations is, if God had wanted it that way, would he give the wisdom to the man that invented the fire extinguisher to invent it? There wouldn’t be any need. If we can just impregnate our wives, put her on a bed and on the day of delivery, we just go to the bed and collect the baby, there would be no need for midwives and doctors.”

Shobande is the lead facilitator of Flameshield Fire Training, an arm of Flameshield Extinguisher Nigeria Limited, a firm that trains all categories of people in basic domestic, corporate and industrial fire prevention techniques. The next training session, tagged Fire Marshals/Warden Courses, hold in Lagos on July 26.

But Shobande doesn’t do the job alone. His wife, Nancy, acting managing director, Firerisk Engineering Limited, is also in the business, he says. His wife’s firm has been in Nigeria in the past 18 years, working hard in the area of fire protection and safety. Other partners in Shobande’s firm include Mrs. Eka Princewill, secretary of the company and Miss Preye Ebikeme, the company’s business developer.

Shobande’s firm has been rendering fire protection services for quite some time. He tells the reporter what the company is all about. “We are a fire protection company. We are into fire solution services. We are also into fire hydrants and FM 200 and a number of other applications. These applications will detect fire even before it starts. We also supply equipment including coveralls, reflective jackets, fire extinguishers, among others. Most of the time, we work in partnership with Firerisk Engineering Services Limited which is well known across the country.”

Shobande, who studied Microbiology at the Ogun State Univcrsity, Ago-Iwoye, confesses that he was influenced by his wife into embracing his current calling. Each night, she would sit her husband down and start discussing her activities at work with all excitement. Eventually, her husband got bitten by the same bug, and he developed interest in fire prevention.

“I picked up some books and started reading,” he tells the reporter. “Then I discovered it is an interesting business area which many people in Nigeria are not looking into. But that has since changed since I started my company. We found out that there are so many innovative technologies coming in from Europe, Asia and all over the world in the area of fire prevention and safety. That has brought a lot of young people into fire protection and safety.”

But Shobande did more than picking up and studying a few books. He proceeded to the United Kingdom where he got himself trained in fire prevention and safety from Fire Training UK. In no time, he had become a fire prevention and safety professional. Since then, he visits the UK once in two years for further training.

One of the things bugging his mind is that many Nigerians are still not looking into the area of training. “You may have a fire extinguisher, and you would not even know how to use it. I’ve seen a man whose car was burning on the Third Mainland Bridge. His booth was opened, and he had a fire extinguisher in his hand. But he didn’t know how to use it. People had to stop and help him. That is where the training comes in. So we decided to start Flameshield Training in order to make sure that even when you have an application that you don’t know, our company can come in and teach you how to use it.”

How has the experience been so far? “Oh, splendid,” he replies. “We’ve had a lot of people coming in for training, and we’ve awarded a lot of certificates. We’ve been able to train the staff of some very prominent companies in the country. The training holds twice a year in Lagos. But we hope by next year, we will have the training in Abuja.”

But he’s still not happy that the government and some corporate organisations have not yet keyed into the fire prevention and safety policy which, he notes, has now become the standard across the globe. He believes the gospel of fire prevention and safety would not be spread round the country until the government begins to take the issue seriously. To him, government should lead the way by ensuring that the staff of all government offices, including ministries, departments, agencies and parastatals are trained regularly in fire prevention and safety.

“If government is involved, for instance, it becomes a way of life. It becomes a must that every company must train its staff. It is a standard practice in Europe and in most parts of the world. Each company that employs at least five workers must train them in fire prevention and safety. Companies take their staff through fire training and safety and through periodic fire drills. Unfortunately, it is not so in Nigeria, even though that is what the law says. It is the legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order 2005),” he explains.

Shobande would like a situation where a state governor himself will sit with his senior aides and cabinet members, receiving training on fire prevention and safety. “If that happens, it then becomes a model, and it’s unlikely that any official will refuse to go for training. When you see the staff of government or an organisation well trained in fire prevention, you can only imagine how much that will save the state or the company,” he said.

What are the challenges in the business, you ask. He sighs. “One of the challenges we have is getting the people that are important, the decision makers to understand the need for training on fire prevention, and also to make sure that they get the people that are under them to attend the training. Another one is cash constraint. There are so many logistics involved in organising a training session, getting the right venues and so on. And corporate organisations are not budgeting enough for training and retraining.”

You want to know why he veered from sitting from morning till night in a lab staring at tiny microorganisms through a microscope. “Well, by my nature, I’m kind of restless,” he says. “So I simply got tired of that kind of life. And now, what I do is very exciting. There are different things happening from day to day. And as a result of my background as a marketer with some of the companies where I worked after graduation, I had little problem building a client base that has been working for me and the company.”

He also speaks on how fire can be prevented in the many markets scattered around Nigeria, saying fire extinguishers must be provided for the traders who must also be given adequate training in their use.

“We’ve tried several times to get to the markets, train the traders and sell fire extinguishers to them at affordable rates. But we were always asked to go pay some money to some of their leaders. So that has discouraged us.”

His wife, Nancy, studied Business Management, but had her industrial training at a fire prevention and safety firm. She developed an interest in the business and has done nothing else since.  “It’s quite interesting,” the husband says. “My wife and I can easily flow together since we speak the same language of fire prevention and safety. We are in the same business and it has helped our marriage.”

Before you leave, you want to know the correlation between the pastor and the fire prevention professional. He explains: “One part of my life I use to stop fire from entering into people’s homes. The other part I use to ignite fire in people’s heart towards God and prevent them from spending their eternity in hell fire.”

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