Sat | Sep 23, 2017

big fire spend

Published:Friday | February 20, 2015 | 2:00 AMDaraine Luton

The Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) is to get a 302 per cent increase in allocation for the acquisition of fire vehicles, even though the $362.9 million proposed in this year's Budget is far below the $539 million it requested. A total of $90 million was given to the fire services for the purchase of fire vehicles last year.

Of the monies set aside for the acquisition of fire vehicles, 50 per cent is to be used for the completion of payment for the purchase of fire pumpers. Funds are also earmarked for the purchase of a fire boat.

In addition to increased funding for the purchase of fire vehicles, the JFB is to get $15.9 million for the repair of 300 fire hydrants and $6.7 million for the maintenance of the hydrants.

In a performance audit of the JFB last year, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis found that 37 per cent of the 13,207 fire hydrants were defective or without water, impairing the JFB's ability to effectively respond to emergencies.

"What we have done so far is a costing to finally repair those hydrants and we have made a proposal that it will be done over a number of years. In the first three years, we are going to be repairing between 900 and 1,000 hydrants," JFB Deputy Commissioner Samuel McIntosh told The Gleaner.

He said it would take roughly $45 million to do each three-year phase of the hydrant repair, which would mean approximately $120 million to make 100 per cent of the country's hydrants functional.

The JFB said it is now in a better position to respond to fires as a result of the addition of three new fire trucks and a $13-million grant from the Japanese government, which was used to service and repair hydrants.

Emeilo Ebanks, the public relations officer at the JFB, told The Gleaner that 105 hydrants were repaired last year and 981 were serviced.

He said that the repair of hydrants has "greatly boosted the availability of water for firefighting".

"We did a survey of the hydrant network and we looked at the most critical ones in terms of their locations, and those were the ones that were given priority. This will increase the availability, in terms of the number of working hydrants, and also give us greater control in terms of their location and the availability of water in those locations," Ebanks said.

FINANCIAL CONSTRAINTS

The performance audit found that the JFB requested a total of $5.14 billion for capital expend-iture between 2007-08 and 2013-14, to acquire firefighting vehicles and equipment, rehabilitation of fire vehicles, and carry out repairs to fire stations and fire hydrants. However, it only received $629.7 million over the period.

At the time of the audit, it was found that 36 per cent of JFB's fleet of emergency vehicles was out of service.

"At May 2014, JFB's fleet of emergency vehicles, including pumpers, water tankers and fire boats, stood at 75, of which 31 (41 per cent) were out of service, some for periods up to six years. Consequently, [the] JFB was unable to deploy a pumper to four fire stations. While there were other emergency vehicles at the Portmore and Montego Bay fire stations, no vehicles were assigned to the Annotto Bay and Old Harbour fire stations. In addition, no fire boat and only one of the six ambulances were operational to support emergency activities. These out-of-service vehicles, coupled with the fact that 37 per cent of the 13,207 fire hydrants were defective or without water, have impaired [the] JFB's ability to effectively attend to emergency activities," the report said.

Jamaica has 13,207 hydrants, 8,288 of which are known to be working.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com