Late 911 calls delay Fire Department response

by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada 

  • Fire department’s ability to dispatch promptly directly impacted by late calls received
  • Fire at Paddock challenged by presence of Class 2 combustibles
  • When a fire starts in a building the first thing is to call the fire service

At a Yuletide debrief held by the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) on Wednesday, 8 January 2020, Inspector John Mark St Paul of the Fire Department maintained that the department’s ability to dispatch promptly to emergency fires is directly impacted by the late calls the department receives.

He directed his response to members of the media who questioned the perceived late response in cases of fire emergencies, particularly the fire at Paddock, St George, on 17 December 2019 which gutted the top floor of a 2-storey commercial building that housed Europa Hardware, and displaced the operations of NOW Grenada and Aqua Design on the lower floor.

The fire department’s attempt at extinguishing that fire revealed several deficiencies in their approach to containing the fire, including the need for further training of firefighters. St Paul said they react almost immediately whenever there is an emergency, but it has become common practice where people first attempt to contain a fire themselves before alerting the fire department.

“Most times when we respond I know that we respond in quick time, from the time we get the call to the time we arrive on the scene, but the time we get the call that is not the time the fire actually started. People will try to fight fires like the Europa fire because I was told by some employees that they try to use a fire extinguisher and the fire got out of hand, and then when it escalates, then they call the fire service — just like the fire in St Andrew,” said St Paul. “If we get a call when a wooden house is in flames, with the weather conditions, wind speed, the elevation where the buildings are, and so on, by the time we reach there all we are left to do is just maintain the containment of that fire and ensure that it does not spread.”

Regarding the fire at Paddock, St Paul indicated that there were several issues which posed a significant challenge for the firefighters at the scene and warranted the assistance of the crews at the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) Crash, Fire and Rescue Station, since only one firetruck was available at the Central Police Station on the Carenage. St Paul said that “based on the combustible materials present and at that fire, there were Class 2 combustible gases and oils, liquid petroleum products and compressed gases and there were a number of explosions, so the approach will be different from going and fight an ordinary house fire.”

Despite numerous fire prevention and outreach programmes, the Fire Department realises more is needed to sensitise the public on fire prevention. “We have to really further engage and educate the public that when a fire starts in their building, the first thing they need to do is to call the fire service, and one of the things is to encourage these business owners to have their employees trained in the use of portable fire extinguishers,” St Paul said. The fire department offers fire safety training and the use of fire extinguishers and teaches the different classes of fire.

The RGPF Fire Department is challenged with limited resources available. Assistant Commissioner of Police Jesmond Prince said to overcome such challenges requires leveraging the support of other agencies such as St George’s University and the Maurice Bishop International Airport Crash, Fire and Rescue Station.

“We need to continue to build on that collaborative effort in dealing with some of the challenges that we have. It is a challenge for equipment — a fire truck is not cheap. To get a good fire truck, you would have to spend about US$1 million-plus; a second-hand will cost you about US$500,000 so we have to work with the collaboration that we are experiencing and I think we made good headway,” said Prince.

The Fire Department recorded an increase in house fires over the Yuletide season. In 2018 the fire department recorded 3 house fires but registered 9 in 2019. There was also a 75% increase in rubbish fires recorded.

According to figures provided by St Paul, there were 32 emergency calls which required initial immediate response by the fire department, and 14 non-emergency calls.

The 32 emergency fire calls included:

  • 1 bush
  • 1 business
  • 1 vehicle
  • 3 electrical
  • 7 rubbish
  • 9 dwelling houses
  • 3 standby calls at the Maurice Bishop International Airport

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