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Chigozie Ugwu: The Hero Officer Who Gave His Life-Saving Lives And Fighting Fire Outbreaks In Enugu

Late Ugwu


Chigozie Ugwu: The Hero Officer Who Gave His Life-Saving Lives And Fighting Fire Outbreaks In Enugu

Wife says Enugu State government has not shown concern 

Chigozie Ugwu’s day usually begins at 5 am, when he wakes up and helps with some house chores after which he prepares his three-year-old son, Chibueze and drops him off at school before he resumes at the office at 6:30. 

Ugwu- an indigene of Ukehe, a community in Igbo Etiti local government-  is always the first to resume at the Enugu State Fire Service where he has been working since 2014. 

As he was leaving on the morning of Tuesday, December 12, Ugwu kissed his two kids and his wife, Juliet and promised them that he will return the next day on time to attend his son’s Christmas party at school. His wife had bought the uniform he will use for the party.

At 9pm on Tuesday, he called from the office- as he was wont to- and asked after his children and Juliet told him that they had slept off and that she was awake making food. He said goodnight and promised to return the next morning.

Juliet says government not showing concern after husband’s death

Juliet says government not showing concern after husband’s death

But at 5:30 on Wednesday, Juliet heard a knock on her door and wondered who it was because it was too early for her husband to return from work. When she opened the door, it was his sister and a colleague at work.

“I asked them where my husband was and what had happened, his sister said that there was no problem and that I should dress up and come with them,”she said. “I picked up my phone to call him and she collected it,”. 

They told Juliet that her husband had been admitted at the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, (Parklane) after he was affected by a fire outbreak and that he asked to see his children. She agreed to come with them and as soon as they got to the hospital, she saw her husband lying helplessly. She slumped. 

“I felt my world had come to an end,”.  “He had asked me to prepare a list of clothes and other things we will be needing for Christmas and that he will get them as soon as his salary comes in,”. 

Ugwu had collapsed while trying to put out a fire outbreak that destroyed over 15 shops at the popular Auto Spare Parts market at Coal Camp in Enugu on Wednesday. The Director, Enugu State Fire Service, Okwudiri Ohaa said that his officers went to the scene with four fire trucks because of the magnitude of the outbreak. 

“They fourth the fire for about three hours because it was intense, coupled with the materials that were on fire, including condemned tires, “he said. “Ugwu was in the forefront of the fight as he always does,”.  “He fourth the fire with his last strength and collapsed in the process of damping the fire,”. 

Since Ugwu died, his children have been asking after him. Each time they do- especially the first son, who always takes up his mother’s phone and tries to call his dad, Juliet does not know what to tell them. She is three months pregnant.

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The good man

Juliet misses her husband whom she describes as a good man. She said that marrying him on January 16, 2020 was the best thing that ever happened to her. Together, they hoped to raise their kids. 

The second in a family of eight, Ugwu studied Mechanical Engineering at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, (ESUTH) where he graduated with a first class. He was 39.  Until his death, he was a Senior Fire Officer and Watch Officer in charge of Red Watch- one of the shifts at the Enugu State Fire Service.  

“We hardly had issues, even when we did, he made sure we settled immediately, “she said.  “He did everything possible to ensure that we were happy, even when we did not have enough,”. 

A colleague trying to send a condolence message about Ugwu’s death

A colleague trying to send a condolence message about Ugwu’s death

Oftentimes, Ugwu would go to the market and buy food items for the family. When he returns at 7am the next day, he also takes his son to school. The plan was that their second daughter aged 1 year and six months, will begin school by January 2024. 

Juliet said that on several occasions, her late husband has put out dangerous fires across the state that would have claimed lives, even when other workers stepped back. This is regardless of whether or not he is on duty. 

“Each time he returns, I always told him to remember me and his children whenever he is fighting fire outbreaks, “she recalled. “But he will always say that he is committed to saving lives,”. “The day I gave birth to our first son, he went to work,”. 

Juliet said that even when Ugwu is sick, he goes to work. 

“He calls us every two hours to find out how we are doing, even when we are talking, you can hear him giving directives to other workers at the office, “she said.  “Whenever he oversleeps and I don’t wake him up on time, he gets angry,”. 

No concern from government 

Juliet said that although she is yet to come to terms with the death of her husband, what is also worrying is that almost a week after the incidence, the state government has not come to find out how she and her children are surviving. 

“They claim he was a hero-which he truly is, haven given his life in serving the state,”she said. “But nobody cares about those he left behind, even the office where he worked,”. “And it feels like he wasted his time all these years,”. 

Juliet does not have anything doing. She is skilled in fashion design and her late husband had planned to help open a shop for her. Now, he is gone. She does not know how to train her children. 

Juliet’s mother, Roseline Eze said that all that wants is for the state government to see how they can help to take care of her daughter and the children, considering how committed her husband was. 

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“They can give her a job so that she can be earning money to feed her children because she does not have any other person to look up to, “she said. “Her husband was all that she had,”.

He was my best hand

When Engr. Oha Okwudiri- Enugu State Chief Fire officer of Enugu State Fire Service- rose to the rank of the chief fire officer in 2016- he had started work in 2005- he made Ugwu his secretary and they worked together in his office. 

Chief fire officer in the state says Ugwu was the best officer.

Chief fire officer in the state says Ugwu was the best officer.

But after two months, Ugwu came and said that it was an administrative duty and that he wanted to be on the field. He said that he still had a lot to improve upon. 

A day before the incidence, Ugwu accompanied Okwudiri to a security summit at the Debase event centre in Enugu. They both took pictures and Ugwu uploaded the picture on his Whatsapp status.  That was how much they were close. 

“He was his best officer,”he said. “Since 2014, when he started work, he has remained committed and always delivers on job he is given,”. 

As soon as he got the call that Ugwu had been rushed to the hospital, Okwudiri  called a colleague to accompany him to the hospital as it was too early. Later, he got another call from one of the drivers who told him that they had arrived at the hospital and that he was being attended to. As he was about driving out, he got another call from his second in command who told him that Ugwu had died. 

“I was shocked and we immediately called his wife, elder brother and the sister to come to the hospital, “he recalled. “At 6am, we deposited his remains at the morgue,”.

Okwudiri said that although he was the head of the group that went to put out the fire, Ugwu still chose to carry the fire branch and fought the fire himself. When colleagues asked to help, he said no. 

“One of my senior officers sent me a message saying that I had lost my best firefighter,”he said. “He was always punctual and related with everyone. “It is hard to point out one bad thing Ugwu has done since joining the service,”. 

Too kind to a fault 

Immediate elder brother to Ugwu, Bar. Frank Emeka said that his death still feels like a dream. According to him, it was a black Wednesday, one that he will not forget in a hurry. 

“I am empty.  With his death, I lost a father because Ugwu was a unifier who always tried to bring everybody in the family together, “Emeka said. “He was a living saint who always went out his way to offer help to everyone around. He is too kind to a fault,”. 

Late Ugwu’s elder brother said he lost a father

Late Ugwu’s elder brother said he lost a father

Emeka said that he and his siblings did not immediately inform their mother about Ugwu’s death. Before they did, they brought her to Enugu and the first day she arrived, she first asked about him (Ugwu). He was her favourite child. 

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Personal assistant to the chief fire officer, Eng. Christian Ngwu also described Ugwu as a rare human. He said that Ugwu had gone for another work at New Artisan before the call came in from Coal Camp. Yet, he led the team that went to put out the fire. 

“We would have closed our offices, if it were not a government establishment and given the nature of our job, “he said. “That is how much we loved him, his death was a blow to all of us,”.  

He said that after he got the call about Ugwu’s death at 3am, he could not sleep again till it was 8am and he prepared and came to work. 

I will miss our friendship-classmate

In 2005, when they both wanted to apply for a role at the Enugu State Fire Service, it was Ugwu who helped engr. Obinna Omebi, who is currently the Zonal Commander in charge of Nsukka Zone write his application later. Omebi was not in Enugu at the time.

“He helped me to summit the application,”Omebi recalled.  “And when I returned, we both attended the interview and passed, but I was the only one who was chosen for the job,”. 

“He was my best friend,”Omebi said. 

Omebi and Ugwu were classmates at Enugu state University of Science and Technology. After their graduation in 2001, they both started leaving together till they went for service in different states in 2003. 

“When he did not get the job, I helped him secure one with First Bank in Ebonyi state where he worked as a contract staff till 2014 when another opening came out at the state fire service and he applied and was selected,”.  

In the entire six months that their training lasted, Ugwu lived with Omebi, who was married at the time.  They lived like a family. 


Obinna says he will miss late Ugwu’s friendship

Omebi recalled how he spoke to Ugwu, a week before his death, about the need to take some time out to look after himself as he was not looking healthy.  He (Ugwu) Had also shared his experience from the summit they attended the previous day. 

“Around 3am on Wednesday, I got a call about the death,”he said. “I drove quickly to the hospital and told the doctor that Ugwu was not dead yet and that he should be given Oxygen. “But he told me that they had tried all they could,”. 

Omebi said that he and Ugwu had several plans on how to develop themselves and other workers financially. But that Is all gone now.  He also recalled how In 2020, Okwudiri selected Ugwu to attend some trainings outside Nigeria because of his commitment to good service delivery.

“But he could not attend due to the outbreak of COVID-19,” Omebi recalled. “He was our best in terms of his friendship, attitude, morals,”. 

Meanwhile, Juliet and her kids hope that the state government will not abandon them after everything their father did for the state. 

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