The Papua New Guinea Fire Service is one agency of government that exists on the peripheries of  government attention. Its role only comes to the fore during fire emergencies.  The current state of the   Fire Service is, in itself, a risk to investors. After a series of stories ran on EMTV, a senior Fire Service Officer has come out to talk about some aspects of a complex issue. 

A senior fire  service officer who did not  want to be named  says  Lae City’s only fire station does not  have the ability  to adequately contain fires that could happen  on tall buildings.
His comments come after a  series of 8 major fires  in a space of  24 months. 
He said the Lae Fire stations does not have  a snorkel – a truck with an extending arm  designed to put out fires on tall buildings as well as adequate manpower for a city of 500 thousand people.
Over the  last 10 years,  industrial  growth has outpaced   the  ability of  the Papua New Guinea Fire Service  to   adequately  handle fire emergencies.  Despite the growth, Lae has only one fire station.
While  some improvement has been made in terms of improving  equipment,  the emergencies  that have happened in the last two years  have  brought to light the inadequacies of the Service.
Senior officers say Lae City needs two more fire stations.  At present any new investor in Lae  has to seriously consider fire risks   and the possibility of losing millions of  kina to  fires that  may not be adequately  contained by the Papua New Guinea Fire Service.
Fire emergencies do not  always happen every day,  but the statistics for Lae alone are alarming.  Between 2012 and January 2014,  four businesses have suffered major losses  from fires that destroyed their properties and at least five families have lost their homes.
A fire  victim,  Apelis  Mapua,  who lost his home told   EMTV on Tuesday   that emergency response times for the Fire service have  always been a major issue.
            “For our case they didn’t come on time.”
This year, an assessment will be carried out to determine how many more fire stations and what kind of equipment  will be needed for Lae.   This may take a year, maybe several for the recommendations to be implemented.



An assessment will be carried out this year to determine the number of additional fire stations Lae City will need.

This follows a series of fires in Lae which drew strong public criticism against the Papua New Guinea Fire Service.
The most recent fire last week destroyed Lae’s Brian Bell Home Center. In March last year, the PC and JY Woo shop at Eriku was destroyed in a fire. Months earlier, wholesaler Rabtrad’s large warehouse of goods went up in another fire.

Ten months later and just a few days into the new year,  a fire which started at Lae’s G4S headquarters  spread  to the neighboring Niugini Wholesale Drug warehouse.

The total amount of damage to the businesses is estimated to be in the millions. 
 Last week, the Brian Bell Home Center, was destroyed in the second major fire this year; the second in the space of a month.     What has become apparent is the Papua New Guinea Fire Service’s limited resources and their inability to effectively handle fire emergencies. The public has been merciless in their criticism of the service.
“We arrived well before the Fire Service,” said a senior police officer. “The building could have been saved.”
“Should we blame the fire service?” says Russell Gardner, a Lae businessman who was at the scene.
The Papua New Guinea Fire Service,  meanwhile,  has agreed that they have limited equipment as well as a limited presence in a city that is growing. This year the service will be conducting a standard of fire cover assessments to determine how many fire stations will be needed in Lae City.
“Directions have been issued for a “Standard of Fire Cover Assessment” to be conducted,” said Chief Fire Officer, Isaac Silas.  “Without sounding pre-emptive, Lae could have two additional fire stations.”
The news comes as Lae experiences new industrial growth. While one part of the city can be adequately covered by the existing fire station, the service cannot provide effective fire cover for industrial spots which would take at least 20 minutes for the fire fighters respond.


One night at Garden Hills the power went out. A fuse line or transformer or something blew up. It was a cold night.
Three PNG Power guys arrived in a big truck, one climbed up, had a look and came down.

He talked to the other two, they told us they would come back with a replacement or something. They came back about 30 minutes later, you could hear their truck grunt as it made its way up the slippery slopes.

They then changed the fuse/transformer, whatever it was…and power came back on to cheers on the hillside.

PNG Power, before it was ElCom, has been doing this for years.
Trying to make sure the mammoth task of providing electricity to Papua New Guineans is flowing.

Across this country, they risk their lives (if you dont know, electricity can kill) maintaining and growing the infrastructure.

It’s kind of sad when you see a leader’s kid complaining about the PNG Power when he/she receives more pocket money then the take home pay of a linesmen, who risks his life doing his job.

Now, these massive blackouts. Yes, I am pissed, how can this situation come to head? They are screwing up my usp!!

We all like to say incompetence, it’s our new buzz word. When we say it we feel the buzz of our wonderful intelligence. ‘Incompetence’ bzzzzz, bzzzz bzzzz.

 But the situation at PNG Power is more complicated than the bzzz of incompetence. It’s a situation of old politics, of unions, of poor ministerial decisions and bad budget allocations, its problem of lack of foresight and planning and landowners with extreme demands.

To top it off, no one told us about this big pile of gas thats under our soil, owned by us and worth billions.
No, they didnt tell us. Because they wanted to pipe it down to Australia, remember? So the billions could be theirs, and we can get visa’s to go down and pick cherries.

The pipeline became a pipe dream cause some of the Papua New Guineans in the technical teams decided that the ministers would sell us short so they started to, in typical Papua New Guinea fashion, stonewall…(yumi PNG stonhet stret).

And what happened… see down there, they were expecting that big rush of gas to run their way and they already had their plans…but we didnt.

Suddenly, no pipeline to Australia, and we are going to have it all onshore.

What happens…all those who wanted to start in Australia rush here! Massive building boom, massive engineering, massive demands for power.

yes, we can bitch all we want about PNG Power…we can say they are no good…but they are feeling what we should have been planning for years ago if the politicians listened to our technocrats instead of all these so called advisors who see PNG as the great get rich quick land.

And now we are stuck with this discomfort.

In my opinion, it’s a temporary pain. It won’t kill us. It won’t kill PNG Power. If we can get through this, it will only make us stronger. It will make PNG Power better.

There are people who look at us and see this beautiful, rich country and they feel we don’t deserve it. Any chance that they get to deride us, to put us down, to call us incompetent, they will use it.

They come by the dozens every day, they fly into POM…they take our jobs, they push us out and they use any chance to say that we are not intelligent, we are lazy, we do not deserve our place in our own country.

Even now, they are at the door, pushing their plans for PNG Power to those in power, saying ‘look, your national guys are incompetent, we should partner up. Give us the opportunity to become a private monopoly, maybe some arrangement like you gave that company that supplies fuel in PNG.’

These are dangerous times for Papua New Guineans….the blackouts are the least of our problems.

Time to toughen up.


This journey has  taken me to strange and wonderful places  and I keep meeting interesting people.  
In 2003,  I met Chris.   We had a lively conversation  in front of Garden City over outboard motors  and the kind of fuel they used.   I am not too sure how  that conversation began   initially.   But I introduced myself and he did the same.  
Over the next five years, Chris’ mental state deteriorated. He was rejected by his family. On one occasion, I met him in Boroko with his arm in a sling.   For me it was upsetting to see him  in the state he was in.  His shoulder was dislocated. I asked him how he was and he told me how members of his family had assaulted him and how people on his street called him “longlong”  and joined in the assault. 
We went into a shop and found some medicine for him and some food. The level of discrimination he faced in the shop was unbelievable.  The security guard wanted him to wait outside. I explained:  “No.  He is with me. We’re here to buy medicine.”  Then I got  so annoyed with the salesperson who was trying to get my attention to tell me that the person I was with was “longlong.”
Chris has seen some of the worst  sorts of behavior that human being can exhibit. He  has been publicly humiliated so many times because many people think that because he appears mentally incapacitated, he can’t think for himself or can’t understand that he is being discriminated against.  Nearly everyone who passes by talks down to him or abuses  him in some way  just because they can. 
 Looks can be very deceiving. Chris studied Communication Arts  at Divine Word University.  For a short while he worked with the Religious Television Association.  He has had a few problems along the way.  However, he  is an avid reader of  books and newspapers and speaks flawless English.   He knows about the corruption and He knows about the current happenings in politics.
He suffers from schizophrenia  –  a condition that was  diagnosed by a senior  Papua New Guinean mental health specialist.  
Every conversation with Chris is always heartwarming, he doesn’t complain about  his difficulties  but always says he’s trying to do something to look after himself.   He always wishes the best for his friends.  In every conversation with me, he always says,  pass my greetings to your  wife and children.  He still remembers my kids from the first time I introduced them when they were little.
Today after a long conversation, I asked permission to take his picture for this short story. He said: “Bro, please write about me. Tell my story.” 
Just before leaving  we shook hands and I said: “Chris look after yourself.”
And in true Chris style, he stretched out his arms  in a comical gesture and said: “Yes, I will! I will not protest in public. I’ve been  stigmatized enough.”
I tell this story to draw attention to the state of mental health care in Papua New Guinea where we have only one psychiatric hospital and less than 10 mental health specialists.
The situation is so  serious  that  brave intelligent people like Chris can’t get help and their conditions are allowed to deteriorate to a point where they are truly mentally incapacitated.