Fire & Rescue: Is it an emergency service or just window dressing?

Despite the spate of recent fires throughout the tri-island state especially in St George’s, I tend to get the feeling that very little emphasis by government is placed on how lucky as a nation we have been so far to get away with what could have been major setbacks to the economy and people’s welfare had one of the fires accelerated into a major incident.

Also, I keep asking myself, how well could our current service cope should 2 incidents of similar proportion such as the one witnessed at Paddock occur simultaneously? Frankly, I don’t believe the service has the capability.

It is time Grenadians wake up, think and ask themselves the question: What is the purpose of having a fire and rescue service? Part of the service duty should be to protect the public by reducing the risk of fires; to save lives and keep citizens safe from harm; to protect our property from fires and the risk of fires; to protect our place of work in fact; to protect all properties from fires and the risk of fires.

In order to do this, the service must be adequately funded with its independent budget and fire chief even if it continues to be under the umbrella of the RGPF. In other words, we should have a fire service budget ringfenced and protected from the rest of the RGPF finances.

It would be interesting to know just how much per household is actually spent on the service per annum and how much it is likely to cost taxpayers to bring the service to a level that would deem it adequate or satisfactory. A good or excellent rating should be the ultimate aim of any fire and rescue service.

What we have at the moment could simply be described as window dressing. To get the service any way near fit for purpose, the government has to be prepared to provide the necessary funding and the service has to develop a long-term strategy that includes an Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP), a living document with a 5 to 7-year programme that would bring the service up to the level it needs to be. There should be an annual publication of this document that clearly show indicators of improvements or failures over the previous year and the plan of action necessary throughout the current year to remedy any deficiency or to continue improvement and value for money in accordance with the IRMP.

The plan should include the mapping and installation of fire hydrants throughout the country in relation to towns, suburbs, rural areas and villages with a statutory requirement that new housing/industrial estate areas must be fitted with fire hydrants at the installation of mains water supply. The upgrading of fire engines/pumps with a requirement for a minimum of 2 engines per stations covering developed towns with reach ladder facility on at least one pump; a retraining programme for firefighters, adequate clothing and breathing apparatus to be provided and maintained for all firefighters.

There should be a programme to provide the public with fire safety advice, inspection of private homes on request and an annual inspection of public buildings and business premises with recommendations if and when necessary.

One of the main capabilities of any emergency service is the quality and effectiveness of its command and control centre. Most control centres these days provide for shared services that include police, fire and crime, and ambulance providing a 24/7 operation with highly trained operatives. When one dials 911, the operator/s will confirm 911 and ask which service is required. Such a service should be included in the strategy as part of the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP). A few years ago, I had the experiencing of dialling 911 and asked for the fire service only to be told by the operator (a woman) “this is a police station.”

I am in no doubt that we have good intentioned, dedicated firefighters. What these men and women need is proper protective clothing and adequate tools to do their job. We cannot expect people to risk their lives trying to protect us and our property with inadequate, outdated and ineffective equipment.

The service needs modern fire engines/pumps, not necessarily brand new ones since the financing appears to be a problem. There are opportunities to purchase second-hand pumps with various service improvement facilities. Pumps with full service history/garage maintained from first registration to current should be given more consideration than the age of vehicles and vehicles without service history, or those with questionable maintenance/service documents and the conditions under which vehicles have been operating under such as the quality of road surfaces and drivers’ skills. US$500,000 can go a long way in re-equipping the service if those who need to deliver carry out the right sourcing.

Winston Strachan

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