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EDITORIAL - Jamaica Fire Brigade has management problem, too

Published:Thursday | June 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The fact that it is underfunded provides a rampart behind which those who run the Jamaica Fire Brigade can, and are likely to, easily find cover in the face of the performance audit that publicly revealed the woeful state of the emergency services.

They will have an argument. But it won't be the full story. Nor can they expect it to totally absolve them of responsibility.

The first point to note is that the shortfall in the cash received by the fire brigade for capital spending over seven fiscal years up to 2013-14 is not as bad as may be assumed, based on how the data is presented in the Auditor General's report.

On the face of it, the brigade, over the period, requested, cumulatively, J$5.14 billion with which to purchase and upgrade equipment and facilities, but received only J$630 million, or 12 per cent. This analysis overstates the underfunding. For it assumes that each year's budget request and final allocations, are completely discrete events, bearing no relation to what happened in the prior year.

Insufficient and inadequate though they may have been, the Jamaica Fire Brigade in each of the reported years actually received capital allocations with which it should have been able to spend on even the basics. The next year's effort, and counting, therefore, needs not start from zero, even if adjustments have to be made for inflation and the continued deterioration of underserviced equipment.

That point having been made, it is clear, and easy to concede that resources, or the lack thereof, is a significant problem for the fire brigade. But it is obvious, too, that they face a deficiency in leadership and management.

Indeed, in situations of resource constraints, such as those faced by the fire brigade, fleet management should be high on the agency's agenda to ensure that the greatest proportion remains in a serviceable condition. It is in part for this reason, and given the specialised nature of its equipment, that the brigade maintains its own workshop, which has a history of problems. That workshop, unfortunately, has been unable to keep over 40 per cent of the brigade's fleet in operation.

Lack of professionalism

Far more troubling to this newspaper is the seeming failure of the board and management of the fire brigade to foster a culture of seriousness and professionalism, judging from the picture painted by the findings of the audit.

The point is that some things don't need a lot of money to accomplish, yet are important in setting the tone of an institution and the confidence people repose in it. In the case of the fire brigade, for example, it does not take additional resources, beyond the salaries received by supposedly trained staff, to develop a formal building inspection policy and a regime for the follow-up of inspected premises with safety deficiencies.

It is a basic principle, too, that emergency responders log and analyse the time to which they respond to incidents and their efforts to enhance efficiency. But what can you expect if at the headquarters of the fire brigade there is exposed electrical wiring, faulty plugs and sockets, the absence of an emergency evacuation plan, and no emergency signs?

That, to us, is an absence of leadership and a lack of professionalism - not the lack of cash.

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