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Men under fire - Brigade entrance test proves too hot
published: Sunday | April 6, 2003

By Leonardo Blair, Staff Reporter

Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) District Officer, Copeland Green, invigilates a JFB literacy test at the Baptist Church Hall in St. Ann's Bay on Thursday, where scores of male applicants turned up.- Norman Grindley/Staff Photographer

For any single recruitment drive that we have, there are approximately 1,000 applicants and it's difficult to find 100 recruits from that pool.
-Senior Supt. Valbert Lawrence

THOUSANDS OF CXC/ GCE O'Level qualified young men seeking to become firefighters in the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) are being rejected each year due to "woefully inadequate" literacy skills, say senior JFB officers.

The men who are being tested via "GSAT equivalent" papers in mathematics, English and general knowledge are failing so miserably it is 'appalling' says one training officer, who is also a vice-president in the Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers (JALGO).

"The 'so-called' qualified people are not performing. They come with all the certificates and can't do simple arithmetic," laments the officer.

"When I listen to (Wilmot) Perkins on the radio saying we have semi-literate people coming out of the classroom, after seeing these applicants perform, I have to agree," adds the officer.

Senior Superintendent in charge of training, Valbert Lawrence, told The Sunday Gleaner last week that of the average 1,000 applicants who turn up for standard tests administered by the JFB during its various recruitment drives across the island annually, a paltry 100 of them usually "qua-lify for recruitment".

"For any single recruitment drive that we have, there are approximately 1,000 applicants and it is difficult to find 100 recruits from that pool," explains Senior Superintendent Lawrence.

And with the current crop of unprepared young men turning up for interviews, Superintendent Lawrence says the task of filling 500 vacancies in the Brigade over the next three years appears a fiery trial.

Along with being between the ages of 18-25, JFB recruits are expected to be a minimum of 165cm tall, medically fit and must pass interviews and academic tests at the recruiting centres.

While most are able to prove they have the brawn for the job, a beating in basic academics remains the most frequent snag for many JFB applicants.

"The men lack basic numeric and literacy skills which are required for the job. They have no idea what is happening in the country and simple parables such as 'a bird in the hand is worth ________?' they can't complete," says Acting Assistant Commissioner in charge of Area One in the JFB, Laurie Williams.

Just last week, while administering tests to Kingston applicants in its most recent recruitment drive, the JALGO vice-president said two of the applicants were "caught cheating on the 'GSAT' test," and they had to be disqualified from the exam. One of these applicants is said to have six O'Level passes while the other has five.

"If you look at the CXC people spelling, most of them have English and they can't spell. I don't know what is happening in the classroom," says the JALGO vice-president, "how can you spell the word 'survey' - S-E-R-V-E?"

Superintendent Lawrence also explained that there are also some applicants who have turned up with less then four subjects who have been allowed to do the test but "even if we should bend back a little they still can't measure up. Too many of them are not meeting the minimum requirements," he says.

Successful JFB applicants are expected to have a minimum of four GCE or CXC O'Level subjects at the General Proficiency level or its equivalent.

Superintendent Lawrence says that as a result of the existing vacancies, the current pool of just over 1,200 firefighters islandwide, 400 of whom are in Area One (Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Thomas) there is a great deal of pressure on current firefighters.

"The shortfall of firefighters is putting a strain on our human resource," he said. "The present firefighters tend to work long hours. In the last month or so there has been a spate of fires, especially in the Kingston and St. Andrew area. They are working long shifts."

The JFB is currently embarking on a recruitment drive to satisfy "acute" shortages for firefighters in the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Ann, and St. James. Recruitment began two weeks ago and will make its final drive between this Wednesday and Thursday at the West Jamaica Conference Auditorium, Mount Salem, Montego Bay, beginning at 9:00 a.m.

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