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For award-winning firefighter Agbili, all challenges, chance for victory

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PICTURE Martin Onyedikachukwu Agbili, Director/Chief Fire Officer, Anambra State Fire Service, and National Chairman, Nigeria Institute of Safety Engineers as a boy in his primary school days going to school barefooted, with metal box on his head. Such picture wasn’t a figment of anyone’s imagination.

  As a pupil in his primary school days at Asata, Enugu, except for march past on Children’s Day, October Independence Day celebration, or when he represented his school in debate or essay competitions and on Sundays when going to church, young Martin went to school barefooted.

Engr. Agbili recalls it as a funny experience, because it was somehow difficult for his family, so they had to maintain whatever they had to preserve the few they possessed.

  Those days in Enugu, though he wasn’t from a poor home, life wasn’t easy for young Martin. But it built in him the resiliency to turn his story from the ordinary into a life of significance.

The lesson from that experience was that you have to make do with what you have and be committed to give your life a better story. In other words, that every statement of change of story has its foundation. And the more you build on that foundation, the higher you accelerate in life.

Passion for what he does have always been the driving force behind every responsibility assigned to him. As the Chief Fire Officer of the Anambra Fire Service, Engr. Agbili believes that he is a firefighter before any title or designation.

He still fights fire, a rare sight for fire service chief in our clime. He tells you that office or designation doesn’t fight fire but the fire fighter in you. “I will proudly tell you that I’m the only Chief fire officer in the country that goes fighting fire. I am proud of working, and fulfilled working in the fire service.”

 On his path to becoming a firefighter and the better story he enjoys, he attributes the credit to some individuals who influenced his rise from the harsh challenges of life in his formative years to the height he occupies today.

First, to his late father and late Moses Ezekwo. “My father trained me to the level I was before he died. He was such a great man that moulded my character. Mr. Ezekwo encouraged and employed me into fire service. He told me I would go places in the job when I don’t even know anything about the fire service..”

Engr. Agbili’s quest for education started with his primary education at St. Patrick’s Primary School, Asata, Enugu, where he had his First School Leaving Certificate. He obtained his West African School Certificate at Igwebuike Grammar School, Awka. His pursuit for tertiary education took him to Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, where he graduated with a second class in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Fondly called AGILITY by friends, the Ogbunka, Orumba South Local Government Area born firefighter joined Anambra State Fire Service in 1997 as Watch Officer/Rescue Officer, with primary roles, such as attend to any distress calls, participate in firefighting, disaster, rescue operations, and save peoples’ lives and properties whenever the need arises.

On 3rd July, 2000, Engr. Agbili took his biggest risk as a firefighter/rescuer when he entered inside a pit latrine, and rescued a baby that was thrown inside there. The rescue operation remains one of his most unforgettable moments in fire service.

He became Fire Safety Officer/Fire-Prevention Officer in 2002, where he ensured preparation and implementation of site safety and health plan for firefighters, worked with other emergency response leaders, to coordinate fire control, rescue, hazardous material clean-up and medical treatment efforts. And assisted in fire disaster investigation and writing appropriate reports.

In 2006, he was in-charge of Training, Fire Prevention & Sensitization, becoming the Commandant of the Anambra State Fire Service Training School, besides training and advising industries and institutions on fire safety/prevention.

And interpreting and disseminating fire safety laws and standards. He was appointed Director/Chief Fire Officer, Anambra Fire Service in 2017, assuming the role of General Commander of Fire Service in operation and administration.  

The Anambra Chief Fire Officer had dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. He stayed at home for six years waiting for admission to study medicine that wasn’t forthcoming, not that he didn’t meet the required JAMB’s score.

He was in that situation until Mr. Ezekwo, who was a firefighter told him that since he was good at mathematics that he should try engineering.

Engr. Agbili had known Mr. Ezekwo at Enugu as kid in the old State Anambra State and had been fascinated by Mr Ezekwo zeal and commitment to fighting fire.

He often rushed to scene of fire outbreak at Asata to watch Mr Ezekwo’s professionalism in combating fire. So, the interest had been there, even while he thought of studying medicine.

Engr. Agbili said he had no regrets not studying medicine, “I was telling someone the other day that even if somebody had to pay me one million naira every year to go and study medicine, I can’t go back there again. Honestly, I’m fulfilled where l am today.”

His vision for Anambra fire service is for it to be the leading agency in the country, from whatever index you measure fire service performance. “As it stands, if you talk of fire service in the South East, Anambra State leads all the way.”

He describes Governor Willie Obiano as one of the best things that ever happened to Anambra State, nothing that Gov. Obiano has been assisting the state fire service to attain the level the agency aspires.

The number one fire officer of the state laugh it off when some people say his agency doesn’t respond early enough to emergency, “What I believe is that people that call fire service names or shout at us don’t know how the system operates.

Once you are employed in the fire service you stop blaming or criticizing them. You will see things from the fire service angle. It is easier to criticize from the outside. I don’t blame anybody.”

“Whoever that is experiencing fire outbreak is in a state of confusion, the person and people around can say anything. There is the issue of the time the fire broke out and the time we got the call, the issue of traffic sometimes, among other issues people don’t consider.

Most people have the attitude of thinking of fire service only when there is fire outbreak or as it affects those close to them, that’s when they seek for the fire service numbers. Before then, whenever somebody is talking about fire service, such people feel or think it doesn’t concern them.”  

The Anambra Chief Fire Officer is proud that Anambra State has produced renowned people, on his part he wants to be a renowned worldwide fire safety professional. The passion, hard work, and sense of duty in which he pursues his job is, the same mentality he wants people working with him to maintain.

 “The attitude I want people working with me to bring into the fire service is the same passion that I have for the job. The same commitment to helping people, the same mentality in knowing that Anambra State Fire Service is a call to humanitarian service.

I don’t tolerate people calling fire service lines and their phones switched off. I always tell my staff that no matter what they are doing they are safety officers and shouldn’t switch their phones because that’s the only medium people can use to reach them. We don’t tolerate lateness to work and every staff is encouraged to work as a team.”   

Engr. Agbili, accords people with the respect and dignity they deserve however their status, he is put off when people try to smear his name, “I believe that my name is precious. I have tried over the years to build a good name for myself.

Therefore, anyone that tries to tarnish my name, I see it as a challenge that doesn’t mean well for me. Such people I warm to desist from such. And if they don’t I take the appropriate action.”

 The respected firefighter sees life as a platform, “this life that you see is just a stage, and in your space do the much you can and leave the rest to God to handle. You can never finish everything by yourself.”

Fire Master, as some people describe him sometimes, Engr. Agbili is a voracious reader; always eager to acquire new knowledge. In the fire-fighting field, he is also a researcher, an instructor, a trainer and an author.

To his credit are two fire books, first of its kind from any fire chief in Nigeria. He is a Fellow and Member of more than 15 professional organisations within and outside Nigeria. Besides, he has been honoured with many local and international awards for his exemplary leadership qualities. 

The award winning fire officer is a family man who loves playing with children. He recounts his journey into holy matrimony as a wonderful experience that has remained blissful. In his wife, God blessed him with everything he required of a woman.

“Let me tell you one thing about my wife, she has been my backbone. Anything I have achieved since marrying her, she has been the support and strength.”

“That people see the passion I have as a firefighter today, she has been my pillar, without her support I won’t doing what I’m doing today.

Some nights when I receive distress calls, she has always been the one telling me that the emergency line is ringing, she will always be the one to wake me up to go and fight the fire. She is homely, humble, and of course beautiful.”

When I proposed to her I had nothing to my name but she accepted me, I know many people were coming to seek her hand in marriage, people with cars and money but she said in as much as I don’t have anything that I’m the only person she would marry.

She stood her ground despite the pressure mounted on her. It wasn’t easy in the beginning but after marrying her, it has being open doors. He is married to Chiamaka Agbili, who he fondly calls ‘Omalicha Agility’ they are blessed with three children.    

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