Hurricane would devastate force
Members of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, a critical set of emergency workers in the event of a natural disaster, say they are not adequately prepared for this year’s hurricane season.
Responding to questions from The Sunday Gleaner about the capabilities of the island’s fire stations at the start of the hurricane season, Acting Assistant Superintendent Dennis Lyons said the brigade was not equipped to deal with any major operations, especially during a hurricane.
‘The Fire Brigade offers one of the most critical public services and this becomes even more critical during natural disasters,’ he said, pointing out that a major lack of essential resources was hindering firefighters across the island from operating competently.
Shawn Moncrieffe, an officer at the Half-Way Tree Fire Station told The Sunday Gleaner that during the last dry season a shortage of power hoses made extinguishing bush fires difficult.
According to a firefighter at the Port Royal Fire Station, who requested anonymity, ‘This station only has one fire unit (truck) and it has been here from the 1980s.’ Furthermore, he said, firefighters at the station currently share protective uniforms, which does not meet the National Fire Protection Agency’s (NFPA) standards on protective gears for firefighting.
He said these demotivating factors were compounded by poor working conditions such as leaking roofs and the absence of bath-showers, face basins and functioning toilets.
Addressing the matter of sanitary conditions at fire stations, Supt. Lyons said while there have been efforts by the Ministry of Local Government to refurbish stations, firefighters were still working in very depressing environments.
Additionally, he said, fire units being deployed across the island cannot negotiate hilly or rugged terrain. ‘The trucks being used are just limping along,’ he said. ‘Most of them have been in use since the 1980s.’
In the meantime, there is a ray of hope for the Fire Department with handing over ceremonies for the distribution of 33 new fire trucks being planned by the Ministry of Local Government. Communication officer at the ministry, Ann-Marie Mitoo, said, on July 12, the ministry would be handing over 20 new fire units.
Nevertheless, Mr. Lyons acknowledges that at present, Jamaicans who may need the services of the Fire Brigade during a hurricane, are at a disadvantage.