Monday, 28 January 2008

I'm Nero With a Camera

Imagine yourself on the road in a vehicle and you hear sirens coming from behind. The sirens become louder as fire trucks approach you. All vehicles clear the road in orderly fashion by pulling as far to the right as possible and wait for the fire trucks to pass.

You are NOT imagining a scene in metro Manila.

This might happen in provincial cities and towns in the Philippines. If so, good for you who live there. Aside from the cleaner air, it is another thing for which to be thankful. Should your home or work catch fire, you have a more likely chance of the damage being contained.

Tonight I witnessed a fire that broke out just two (2) blocks from the Makati Central Fire Department just across the street from our building.

If you are reading this shortly after I post it, you are learning of this tragedy before anyone else anywhere. Doesn't that make you feel special?

Anyway, I was passing by my window when, out of the corner of my eye, the sight of flames leaping several stories into the night sky caught my attention. Then I heard a siren. The fire truck was on Ayala Avenue below my window. Cars from the side street were ignoring its flashing red and blue lights and wailing siren and continuing to merge into traffic in front of the cars already blocking the truck on Ayala.

I began snapping pictures and continued to do so for another ten minutes as the truck inched along in traffic.

There were no policemen present (though the police department sits next to the fire department on Ayala) to help usher the fire equipment through.

More sirens were heard as a couple more fire trucks tried to pass without success.

After those ten minutes the first truck had finally reached the fire, just two blocks away. The flames were a good bit stronger now than ten minutes earlier.

In all, over a dozen pieces of fire equipment consisting of pumpers and water trucks arrived on the scene from many stations. All had to endure drivers unwilling to pull aside, actively pulling out in front of, or blocking their way. The height and luminosity of the flames were apparent to all. Each driver had to know exactly what they were doing...blocking the ability of the fire fighters to respond to the emergency.

It has been said Filipinos suffer from a "crab mentality". That means they behave like crabs in a basket. One tries to climb out. As it makes progress towards the rim, the others grab for it and pull it down. In the end, none of them are able to climb out of the basket.

Drivers in metro Manila (and perhaps all across the Philippines. But I believe it is far worse here, and I'm hoping it is exclusive to Manila.) are so caught up in this mentality they won't let anyone in front of them or pass by them. Not even fire fighters trying to extinguish a fire just a block ahead.

There is no sense of working together.

No cooperation.

Simple-minded selfishness.

Pure greed.

And hypocritical.

I'm sure the fire fighters will remember God Loves and Jesus Saves. They must. It's all over the vehicles blocking their way to the fire. I just hope Jesus saved anyone who might have been in the building(s) as it/they burned.

The street system here also does little to facilitate rapid responses to emergencies. With many one-way streets, lovely boulevards with a line of trees down the center that divides traffic, and narrow roads with large numbers of vehicles "waiting" where they are not allowed to stop, it is virtually impossible for them to respond in time.

It reminds me of a friend who was stranded for several hours on the expressway as a large fire raged several kilometers ahead. With only one expressway, it virtually shut down all of metro Manila. We were in agreement that another blanket bombing of Manila like in WWII is in order so that it can be rebuilt in a logical, organized manner. (Georgians take note: much the same could be done with Atlanta, so people I know there say. Anyone want to play General Sherman?)

What the fire department here needs is what all the diplomats get: a security escort led by a half-dozen motorcycles that move quite swiftly through the streets here. The motorcycles always arrive well before the motorcade to have the intersections cleared.
The police could do this, but they're too busy ignoring the vehicles making illegal left turns at the intersection just below us.