Firefighter safety a concern
Cayman Islands Fire Service and environmental health crews were removing a large slab of concrete from the George Town Landfill on Wednesday that may have been a contributing factor to fires flaring up recently at the site.
Acting Fire Chief John Bodden said he could not pinpoint the exact cause of last Sunday’s surface fire at the landfill, but he said issues with waste disposal were contributing to flare-ups and deep-seated fires starting there.
“[The concrete slab] didn’t cause the fire, but it was contributing because it was retaining heat. You could see smoke coming from that area,” Mr. Bodden said. “By the concrete being exposed to the heat for a while, it was retaining a certain amount [of heat]. The garbage on top of the slab was just house waste – paper and such.”
Fire crews have long surmised that heat from certain objects stored at the landfill has led to spontaneous combustion within the large piles of trash contained there. Over time, the mixing of household waste products with other flammable materials have led to sizeable blazes, such as the one that occurred on Sunday, Mr. Bodden said.
“That area [where the concrete slab was found] was used for oil disposal, but because of the expansion of the landfill, other [waste] has drifted over there now,” he said. “Some of the fires are so deep-seated it takes a while before it gets to the top. The majority of the time it is spontaneous combustion.”
Premier Alden McLaughlin credited fire crews and landfill workers’ efforts between Sunday and Tuesday in monitoring the landfill site and watering down suspected “hot spots,” which may have prevented other fires from flaring up after Sunday’s incident.
“Their quick action added to the improved management at the landfill and upgrades to equipment have improved our ability to minimize and prevent fires,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Preventing repeated fires at the landfill is not only a general public safety issue, but also a safety issue for firefighters, Chief Bodden said.
“Safety of our staff is our number one priority and being exposed to fires involving the landfill does put our staff at great risk,” Mr. Bodden said.
In one photo taken by the Cayman Compass at the scene of Sunday’s landfill fire, a fireman was pictured hosing down the flames with a piece of cloth wrapped around his mouth. He was not wearing a helmet or breathing apparatus.
Mr. Bodden said this was not the result of lack of available equipment for the department personnel on scene.
“All officers are provided with protective gear, helmet and gloves,” he said. “The officer attending that incident should have had on his helmet and respirator or his breathing apparatus.”