Thu | Dec 8, 2016

EDITORIAL - Fire service neglect

Published:Saturday | August 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The persistent dry season being experienced in Jamaica has helped to highlight the sorry state of the nation's fire service, which has been perennially under-resourced and underequipped.

There is strong evidence that the service is hobbled by the lack of serviceable trucks, and these concerns should sound alarm bells at a time when property and bush fires have escalated. In recent weeks, some huge fires have been reported in St Andrew, St Elizabeth, Westmoreland, St Mary, St Ann and Portland, and their financial impact has run into many millions of dollars.

As if to demonstrate the dire immobility of the fire service, television news showed firemen turning up at the scene of a bush fire earlier this week in a small car. They had come prepared to fight a fire because their red hose was tightly curled up in the boot of the car. Alas, there was no water, so they could not put out the blaze! While the citizens commended the firemen for making the effort to get there, some of them seemed rather bemused at the mode of transport bearing fire personnel.

In a country where the fire service is unreliable so that calls are sometimes not promptly answered, and fire hydrants are usually in disrepair, the authorities need to urgently address this question: Who is going to provide a fire-safe environment for citizens if the fire service is incapable of protecting them against destruction of life and property? Where should citizens turn to for redress?

These safety concerns would have weighed heavily on the minds of a group of tourists who were victims of a guest house fire in Portland on Wednesday night. Luckily, they were able to grab their belongings and flee without injury. But there could have been a tragic ending to that story.

What is required is an independent investigation into the national fire service. Such an exercise will have much background provided by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, who recently delivered a scathing report on the state of the fire service. She disclosed that 36 per cent of the fleet is out of service and cited a shortage of fire boats and ambulances. What about firefighting tools such as water jets, gloves, boots, breathing apparatus and telescopic ladders?.

Confronting the woes that beset the fire service rests with the Ministry of Local Government and should begin with an investigation setting out details of what is available and what ought to be acquired to provide citizens with a professional and reliable fire and emergency service.

The acquisition of fire trucks is usually followed by a bellicose encounter between Government and Opposition as to the suitability of these units. So perhaps the thing to do is to source some used trucks from friendly countries. After all, a used fire truck in working condition is more desirable than a spanking new one that is laid up for months while parts are being sourced.

Long, intense debates have ensued from time to time about the state of the fire service, but we have been short on solutions. Change must now move faster than a snail's pace.

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