Could you tell us about yourself?
My name is Idu Pauline Ochanya. I work under the Operation Department, Federal Fire Service, Sector Commander, Red Watch Villa Unit.
When did you join the fire service?
I joined the service in 2014. I went for compulsory 6 months training. I have been there up till now.
Why did you take up such a high risk job purportedly meant for men?
Should I say the job picked me? I am actually somebody who is very conscious of my surrounding. I like to be safe in whatever I do so when this job came along I was glad to pick it because it has to do with what I love. For instance, if I am going out, I put off my appliances and check around if everything is safe before leaving the house. When the job came, it was more like an added advantage to make me learn more and then for feeling challenged.
Do you not feel out of place among these men that you constantly have to work with?
I feel very much in place because the job has taught me a lot. If you ask any fireman, they will tell you that there is no woman in this job. When I’m among the men, I don’t feel like a woman. I try to do my best. It is all team work most of the time. Whenever I am working with the men, they don’t make me feel like, “this one is a woman”; rather they carry me along and if I need to be taught, they teach me. We work as a team mostly. So I never feel out of place working them. It’s a pride also even to work alongside men.
What does an average day look like for you on the job?
My average day on the job whenever I’m on duty – I actually work in the operational department. So when I came to work, I came to work between 6:15 to 6:30am. When I get to the office, I go round to check what is in place and what is not. I keep record of all those things whenever I am on duty. So if the person before me hands over work to me or I take over duty from the outgoing watch, I check what is on ground. Any complaint I take it into consideration. It depends. It depends on the call.
It also depends on the drill for that day because we have a timetable. So after the drill, I give them time to rest. Although, you can only be doing drill, you need to learn other things that have to do with the service. We need to know what prevention is all about; you make them conversant with their appliances or equipments; we do a lot of lectures.
Has there being a time when you felt like quitting the job?
No. I have never felt like quitting. In fact I want to do more. I wish to do more; it’s a great job. Fire fighting is a great job. I’ve never ever felt like quitting.
Firefighters say they enjoy battling fire and they are looking forward to it, can you say the same thing as a woman?
Yes it is the most interesting part- whenever we are going out.
What do you like about being a fire fighter?
I like everything. I love doing it.
Do you have a moment that you can never forget while on duty?
Yes. It was in June 12, 2017. There was a tanker full of 65,000 litres of fuel, at AYA road, Abuja. The tanker driver was carrying about 11 people. Seven were burnt alive. I counted seven and the remaining four were severely injured. It took me hours upon hours to extinguish that fire with other firemen. I can’t forget that day because of the lives it claimed that I felt really pained that the tanker driver had not paid close attention to the rules and regulations of safety. If the driver was not in full speed that day, the accident could have been prevented. I felt really bad and I wish there was more I could do that day.
As a firefighter and someone who has experience in fire, what final words do you have as regards the improvement of fire safety in Nigeria?
There is a need for more capable hands. We have equipment. Thank God for the past and present comptrollers. They are really working. Fire service is not an easy job so we need more hands and then we need more men for fire fighting.
How about women?
When I say men, it includes women. We don’t say fire women. It is only firemen. There is no man or woman on the job. Everybody is a man. If you ask me, if I am a fire woman, judging from m the way it is done, I am a fireman.