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Fire hydrants folly - More than 3,600 not working across the island

Published:Friday | December 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris

Almost 30 per cent of the fire hydrants across the island are in need of repairs, but with the Jamaica Fire Brigade being allocated money to fix fewer than 300 annually, it could be a while before the country is more prepared to fight the threat posed by fires.

The situation is at its most dire in St Thomas, where 72 per cent of the 450 hydrants are non-functional, while Kingston and St Andrew is in the best position, with 12 per cent of its fire hydrants not working.

Sean Martin, assistant commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade and the island's chief fire prevention officer, told The Sunday Gleaner that 3,635 of the 13,529 hydrants are not working, although 285 hydrants were repaired between January and October this year.

"Non-functional fire hydrants greatly impact (the) effective firefighting operations of the brigade. When these instances occur, we are forced to sometimes travel far distances to source water to extinguish these fires," said Martin.

Late last week, Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie told The Sunday Gleaner that the problem of non-functioning hydrants is being given urgent attention.

There have been several massive fires in recent times that have resulted in devastating losses for Jamaicans.

Two weeks ago, 26 persons, including children from six families, were left homeless after fire destroyed their dwelling along East Street in downtown Kingston.

Just a week before that, a vast section of the Geddes Refrigeration Limited building off Spanish Town Road was destroyed by fire, resulting in huge losses for the company.

"The support we received in our annual budget for hydrant repairs allowed us to repair approximately 300 hydrants per annum over the last three years," said Martin.

He noted that there are now only two hydrant repair teams in the island. One is based in Kingston and the other is in St James, the two parishes with the highest percentage of working hydrants.

The situation is especially dire in St Thomas, where of the 459 fire hydrants, 332 are not functional, and in St Ann, where more than 500 of the 807 fire hydrants are not working.

In the Estimates of Expenditure for this fiscal year, just over $14 million was allocated for the repair of 250 fire hydrants and the maintenance of 600. A further $11 million was budgeted in the recently tabled First Supplementary Estimates, for new salary rates for uniformed members of the fire brigade and the hydrant maintenance staff.