By Erica James-King, Staff Reporter
These plastic dish covers have fallen prey to rats.
THE FIRE boat station at Newport East, off Marcus Garvey Drive, in downtown Kingston has been overrun by rats, and firefighters, one of whom said he was bitten by one of the rodents, are appealing for help.
In addition, firefighters have complained about the dilapidated conditions of the station, describing it as sub-human and hazardous, and blaming the Jamaica Fire Brigade for breaching health, safety and building regulations.
The Public Health Department has admitted that it was aware that the station has been infested with rats, but says it will be putting in place a programme to deal with the problem.
Saying the Brigade's administration has allowed the building to deteriorate to the point where there are flagrant health and safety flaws, both senior and junior firefighters at the substation have renewed their calls for the authorities to address the problems.
Officials say it will require about $6 million to undertake repairs at the station.
However, while the Fire Brigade waits for Government financing for the project, the station continues to be overrun by rats, much to the chagrin of more than 30 firemen who are assigned duties there.
"I was bitten by rats some time ago and I brought it to the attention of the authorities, but they will do nothing to rid the place of rats," disclosed one firefighter, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Pointing at the scar on his leg, allegedly inflicted by rat bites, he continued, "we have to sleep and watch for rats in here. As you shut your eye, rats want to crawl all over you."
He added that "the rats in the dormitories upstairs are so huge, they resemble an opossum." The firefighter said he believed the place would be condemned if the public health authorities carried out a thorough inspection of the facilities.
But, the dormitories are not the only places that have been invaded by rats. A Gleaner team which visited the two-storey building last week found it to be quite an eyesore and health hazard, especially the kitchen downstairs.
The team saw huge boreholes, reportedly made by rats, in sections of the kitchen, a dividing wall between the watchroom and lobby, as well as rat droppings inside cupboards in the kitchen.
Siva DaCosta, who has been the cook at the fireboat station for more than four years, is all too familiar with the problems. "We really have a serious health risk here. You can't leave anything for long in the kitchen unattended and the rats don't pull it away or bite it up," Ms. DaCosta said.
Similar stories of encounters with rats were told by firefighters, but they asked that their identities be withheld, saying the Brigade's officials would penalise them if they discovered they have spoken with The Gleaner.
But rodent infestation is just one of a growing potpourri of woes, making firefighters at Newport East hot under the collar. Only one of the six bathrooms on the ground floor was in working order and even that one was only barely limping. On the top floor, only three of five lavatories were functional.
Lizard and roach infestation, termites, mildew walls, missing windowpanes and leaking roofs caused raised eyebrows among The Gleaner news team.
"When there is rain, it's a swimming pool upstairs and downstairs. It takes hours, [sometimes] even days to sweep out the water," Ms. DaCosta complained.
Firefighters play hopscotch when there is rainy weather. "We have to keep shifting the beds to avoid them from getting soaked, when it rains," one firefighter said. "The rainy season is about to start and we fear our lives will become more miserable now," he said.
In addition, the right-side of the top floor shows up defects in the building which appear as though it will topple at any moment. It has gaping holes, and bits of concrete keep falling to the floor where structural deficiencies exist, the fire personnel complained.
Another safety hazard that came to attention was dangling electric cords from several exposed outlets an irony, because the fire department that carries out building inspections could itself be sanctioned for breaching the regulations.
"I feel we are breaching the building code. Some sections of the building were being worked on and remain incomplete and so the electrical sockets were also left incomplete," a senior firefighter pointed out.
"To say the physical infrastructure has deteriorated is an understatement," Leonard Wilson, senior organiser with the University and Allied Workers' Union (UAWU) told The Gleaner. "The Brigade has been told at meetings time and time again, over five years now, that persons at the fireboat station are being molested by rodents and are facing other grave difficulties."
While contending that the morale of those firefighters is at an all-time low because of the problems, Mr. Wilson charges that in the face of repeated representations by the unions on the matter, the Brigade has insisted that "it needs financing from Government to rectify problems at that substation."
But the rodent problem at the fire station has not escaped the health department.
Dr. Herb Elliot, the Medical Officer of Health for Kingston and St. Andrew, confirmed that there is a public health problem with rats at the fire boat station. "Yes, there is a problem with rodents at that facility," Dr. Elliot disclosed, in response to queries from The Gleaner.
While he was tight-lipped about the extent of the rodent infestation and for how long the Public Health Department has known about the problem, Dr. Elliot gave the assurance that "public health inspectors have gone there and we will initiate a programme with the parties involved, to deal with the problem."
According to the Medical Officer, one prong of the rat eradication programme slated for the Fire Boat Station will include educating the staff at that facility on proper solid waste disposal measures.
Meanwhile, the fire boat station is only one of several fire stations in the Corporate Area in urgent need of rehabilitation.
"At least three stations need major upgrading, but ... the Fire Boat Station stick out like a sore thumb," Superintendent Denroy Lewis, Chief of Operations for the Kingston and St. Andrew Division of the Brigade, conceded. "The fire boat station alone needs $6 million worth of repairs."