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Fire Stations across the nation lack necessary tools

FIREMEN ACROSS THE island are quietly waiting for a fire to begin ­ not to show their fire-fighting capabilities, but to reinforce their point that they are without proper equipment.

"We are like children without parents ­ just some orphans," said District Officer B. Richards of the Rollington Town Fire Station.

When THE STAR visited the station recently the driveway was empty and the news team asked if the truck had responded to a call. We were told, however, that they did not have a truck, and have been without one for several months.

If a call is made to the station for help, the station has to call the York Park Fire Brigade to respond. But Rollington Town isn't the only station without a truck. In St Elizabeth, where there were recently a number of bush fires, there are at least two stations, Santa Cruz and Junction, without a truck.

Other problems

The problems of the fire department do not end there however. Firefighters islandwide are also affected by the lack of other basic equipment and the poor state of the stations.

At the Rollington Town station Richards says their shutter which should secure the premises, is currently up and cannot be closed. Included in the plethora of complaints, he said they are without the basic equipment, such as their necessary breathing apparatus and protective gear. They are even without a chainsaw, he said.

When THE STAR visited a number of other fire houses across the island, their complaints were of the same kind ­ they were without their basic, yet necessary equipment.

As if on cue, when THE STAR team popped in at the Half-Way Tree Fire Station, an emergency call came in. The men of course hurriedly put on their clothes, opened the gates, and ran to the truck ­ each man poised in their rescue positions. Minutes later they were seen coming off the truck, taking their uniforms off, and closing the gates ­ their truck could not start.


The Acting Assistant Superintendent, Denies Lyon, said the lack of equipment, has left them struggling. "That truck is a truck that was donated to us last week, and look at it. You saw for yourself, it works when it wants to." He also said their oxygen tanks were full, "however if there was to be a fire like the one that happened at King's Plaza, then the oxygen that we have wouldn't serve."

In the fire which occurred in January at King's Plaza in Half-Way-Tree, the firemen complained that they were unable to adequately fight the fire because they did not have sufficient oxygen tanks to enter the building. In an interview done for THE STAR after the fire he said, "It wasn't the lack of effort, but lack of equipment. The men and the women here are committed, but they are just not supplied with the equipment."

Superintendent Lyon said, "There is one crucial piece of equipment that every fire station should have, and that is the jaws of life, but there is only one in the Corporate Area and it is at the York Park Fire Station." Lyon explained that the 'jaws of life' is the equipment used to rescue people who are trapped in their vehicles during an accident.

Senior Superintendent Raymond Spencer, the head of Operations in Area 1, which includes Kingston and St. Andrew and St. Thomas, told THE STAR, "We are short of everything necessary to discharge our functions. There is a lack of breathing apparatus, and the necessary equipment to evict people. Things such as protective equipment, fire boots, gloves, alert signalling system in case we are lost or in danger. There are also not enough helmets and even when we have those we don't have any hoods to protect our necks."

But, Superintendent Spencer says it's the unreliability of their fire units that is his main concern. "If you patch it up today, by tomorrow it is down. Fire trucks are not made and put down in a showroom like cars. We will not be able to deliver the service that we are here to deliver if every third of the way the trucks break down."

"Take for example, the Fire Boat Station, which is along the Kingston Waterfront, it has been out of service for a number of months. Now, if something should happen the entire waterfront is without coverage."

When THE STAR visited the Fire Boat Station, the representative said they are currently without a boat, thus unable to respond to any fire that should arise. He said the boat was repaired several times last year, then it went out of commission in January.

He said because they are responsible for the Harbour line - from the Norman Manley International Airport to Jamaica Customs ­ it was extremely difficult to do anything without a boat. "Thank God that they practise safety in Industrial places."

He also said that the men who had been stationed there have been moved to other fire stations such as York Park, because their station is currently "off action."

Those stationed at the Trench Town Fire Station sang the same unpleasant tune on THE STAR's visit. Apart from the fact that they are currently using a truck that was donated to them 20 years ago, and rarely works, the representative said.

Not enough equipment

"We don't have enough breathing apparatus, hydraulic cutters, or Jaws of Life as some people call it, proper fire fighting gear, and flashlights. Most of the time when we go on an accident scene, we are just spectators. So what we are encouraging people to do is teach their children about fire safety, because if a fire starts at your house - well, boy, you are having a bad day."

Senior Deputy Superintendent Dave McLaughlin, the St. Elizabeth Division Head, told THE STAR that their current problem of only having one unit for the division is proving to be problematic as proven in the recent bush fires.

"Originally we had three units ­ one from the Junction, Santa Cruz and from Black River, but currently, the ones from Junction and Santa Cruz are not working. The one in Junction stopped working over the weekend, and the one in Santa Cruz went down on January 10."

He said their main concern was the state of the vehicles. "Right now, though the Black River unit is the only one in operation, it is currently leaking. The break down of these units has a lot to do with the rough terrain."

Superintendent McLaughlin said the last time they received fire trucks, was 10 years ago. "They were used trucks out of Japan, so I don't know if those would qualify as new." He said, the fires were "putting a strain on the brigade and endangering other people's cultivation and most of them are just recovering from Ivan."

Like a relentless echo, he also said they were without adequate breathing apparatus and a jaws of life. "We had one jaws of life in St. Elizabeth, but it is currently defective and has been for some time."

The Ministry of Local Government, Community Development and Sport, in a response sent to THE STAR about the Brigade's current plight stated that, "The Ministry is cognisant of the state of the Jamaica Fire Service and is working assiduously with the Ministry of Finance in seeking to assist the service."

They said the Ministry's latest initiatives include, a twenty million dollar donation, given in two portions of ten million dollars, ($10M) which "was disbursed in October/November 2004 to assist with uniforms and protective gears, while the sum of nine million dollars, is earmarked for repairs to the fleet of vehicles." They also said that; "the Ministry with the approval of the National Contracts Commission has put to tender bids for the procurement of approximately 40 vehicles."

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March 2, 2005

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