Wed | Feb 26, 2020

Fire fears heighten as Kingston skyline changes

Published:Wednesday | February 6, 2019 | 7:03 AM
The Kingston waterfront is among the areas in the Corporate Area which is home to several high-rises. A senior firefighter has raised concern over the Jamaica Fire Brigade's ability to respond to emergencies in such buildings.

As investors line up to pump millions of dollars into capital city Kingston through the construction of skyscrapers, there are concerns that the response apparatus of the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) is not being upgraded to match the new challenges of a modern city.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness last year disclosed that a number of investors have requested approvals for buildings 20 storeys and higher.

Since then, at least one major investor has confirmed his intention of going close to 30 storeys high.

But even as these buildings are going to be guided by the national building code and the fire prevention protocols, the readiness of the JFB has being put into focus.

Need to keep apace

“With these high-rises, we are going to need specialised equipment to go up on certain storeys in the event of a fire.

High-rise buildings will take much more resources to attend to, so I am not sure how we haven’t heard anything from the Government saying exactly [when] the fire brigade will be upgraded so we can respond in the event of fires,” a senior St Andrew-based fireman told The Gleaner on the weekend.

“I am talking about proper escape chute that can stretch to the height of those buildings, proper turntable ladder, upgraded pumps and some of the other new technologies that we don’t even know about,” he added.

The firefighter, who has more than 15 years’ experience, told The Gleaner that because of the absence of some of these specialised equipment, the skills of the country’s firefighters might be limited.

“I can tell you, we would be all over the place like headless chickens if there was a major fire at one of the buildings you see going up ... . There is no confidence; we would just have to try a thing,” he added.

Former president of the Jamaica Institute of Architects, Chris Lue, said that given the policy direction of the Government to increase density in the city, the fire services should be properly equipped to handle any disaster.

“In our new environment of development, we need to create situations that go hand in hand with other services.

Is there enough water in terms of the pressure to pump the water to the header tank that would feed the house wheel [in a high-rise building]? All of those thing we need to look at,” Lue urged.

Responding to the concerns raised, JFB public relations officer Emeleo Ebanks said the JFB has trained and certified high-handle rescue teams across the country to respond to fires and other disasters that could happen in a high-rise building. He added that the JFB has specialised equipment and is seeking to make further upgrades.

“The main high-rise firefighting equipment that is used across the world are what we call hydraulic water tables or turntable ladders (trucks) and we have those.”

He said there were “two or three” of those trucks in the fleet of the of the JFB to cover Kingston and St Andrew.

“We have to make sure that as need arises, we continue to equip ourselves and re-equip ourselves. And as the technology [advances], then we have to make sure we keep ourselves abreast with what is going on,” Ebanks toldThe Gleaner yesterday.

He mentioned that the JFB plays a major role in building approvals and that there was a standard requirement for water sprinklers in buildings to be able to operate for a minimum of two hours in the event of a fire.