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Public Report on the Vanuatu Fire Service failure to put out the fire on 6 May 1998 at Paris Shopping, Snoopy’s, Au Peche Mignon and Frank King Tours - May 12, 1999


A Fire on May 6, 1998 in Port Vila destroyed a building containing several retail businesses.  The Vanuatu Fire Service responded to the alarm and attended to fight the blaze.  The Ombudsman conducted an investigation as a result of concerns about the effectiveness of the Vanuatu Fire Brigade in fighting the fire.

The Vanuatu Fire Service is part of the Police Force of Vanuatu.  There is no separate legislation and it has no separate budget.  The water utility of Port Vila is managed by UNELCO pursuant to an agreement entered into with the Government of Vanuatu in 1993.  Part of that agreement obliges UNELCO to put itself at the service of the Vanuatu Fire Service in the event of a fire.

The Fire Service took a considerable amount of time attending to extinguish the fire.  An anonymous call, made to the Luganville Police Station at 5 am could not be passed on to the Police in Port Vila due to an inability to make outgoing calls.  This resulted from telephone bills not having been paid.  A taxi driver notified the Port Vila police of the fire at approximately 5:30 am.  The police then notified the Vanuatu Fire Service.  Two trucks and a rescue vehicle arrived at the scene a few minutes later.  However several difficulties arose which prevented effective fighting of the blaze.  These included:

·       Problems locating the fire hydrant

·       Problems attaching the hose to the fire hydrant

·       Problems with the insufficient amount of water carried on the trucks

·       Problems in getting sufficient pressure from the hydrants

·       Lengthy delay in notifying UNELCO of the fire and seeking its assistance with fighting the fire

·       Leaky fire hoses

Finally, at about 7 am a UNELCO employee, using a key to open a valve in the pipes leading to the hydrants managed to increase the water pressure to an acceptable level.  By this time however, it was too late to save the building.  The VFS continued to fight the fire until 3 in the afternoon.

The investigation revealed that the problems evident in the VFS response to the fire were systemic.  The problems included the following:

·       There are not enough firemen on call at all times

·       There are no standard operating or training procedures in use by the Vanuatu Fire Service.

·       The equipment in use by the Fire Service, notably the hoses were badly in need of repair and maintenance.

·       There is no standard maintenance programme.

·       There are no manuals and procedures in place for fire fighting.

·       There is a lack of funds for purchasing new equipment or repairing old equipment. For instance the replacement of the leaky hose would cost only 20,000 vatu out of a total police budget of 600,000,000 vatu.

·       Lack of fuel for the trucks has prevented having fire drills.  There was only 1 fire drill in all of 1998.

·       The Police Act is defective in that it allocates responsibility for firefighting to the police but does not provide for a fire service or procedures.

·       That the Police Commissioner and Minister of Internal Affairs ensure that the management of the Fire Service is strengthened.  This should include training, drills, manuals, maintenance of equipment and liaison with UNELCO.

·       That the Police Commissioner and Minister of Internal Affairs take all necessary steps to ensure proper separate funding for the Fire Service  to carry out the first recommendation.

·       That the Minister of Internal Affairs initiate the development of legislation to separate the Fire Service’s functions, management, accountability and funding from the Police Act.


Written by Edward R. Hill
UNDP Governance and Accountability Project
January, 2001
© Ombudsman of Vanuatu
Published here by University of the South Pacific, School of Law Web Site - www.vanuatu.usp.ac.fj

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