The Paddock fire exposed weaknesses in our fire and rescue service

by Winston Strachan

To Whomsoever It May Concern

I felt the need to write this letter after witnessing live via the NOW Grenada website what appeared to be a commercial building on fire at Paddock in St George around 10.30 am on the morning of 17 December 2019.

I was shocked and extremely concerned after seeing the inability and failure of the local firefighters to get a grip of the incident and bring the fire under control. DVD recordings of the incident are available and I hope whomsoever is responsible for our fire and rescue services will look carefully at these recordings and take whatever action is necessary to improve the service with good intention to reduce risk to firefighters, the general and property.

The service is inadequate and therefore not fit for purpose. Consequently, a drastic improvement service plan such as an Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) is required; sectioned into perhaps three strategic objectives, keeping our communities safe and well, keeping firefighters safe and well, and making best use of resources align well with three pillars of inspection framework: effectiveness, efficiency and people.

Questions must be asked. The St George’s town fire station is only three minutes away from the incident, yet the fire was allowed to spiral out of control in what was normal atmospheric conditions, i.e. it was not windy on the day. How long did it take the first fire crew to arrive following the report of a fire? What time did the back-up crew from Grand Anse arrive? And why did the service have to rely on the services of the crew from Maurice Bishop International Airport to bring the fire under control?

Was this because of their height-reaching equipped vehicle? One clearly noticed an immediate dampening down of the blaze that was coming through the roof of the building once the airport crew took control using their height-reaching vehicle. Their hoses’ water pressure also appeared to be superior, direct on target, extremely effective and efficient. Their professionalism was something to be admired.

Firefighters need to be properly trained for the tasks ahead. They also need to be physically fit and kitted out with adequate clothing (the latest safety visible available toolkit) and firefighting equipment including reach ladders/hoists and uptodate breathing apparatus that are tested and certified base on manufacturer’s specification. The service needs to be inspected by an independent authority at least every three years with findings, including weaknesses and recommendations made public.

What we also want from our fire and rescue service is effectiveness such as:

  • Preventing fires and other risks: The service should ensure it allocates enough resources for prevention work. It should evaluate its prevention work, so it understands the benefits better.
  • Protect the public through fire regulation: The service should assure itself that its risk-based inspection programme includes proportionate activity to reduce risk.
  • Responding to fires and other emergencies: The service should ensure it has an effective system for staff to use learning and debriefs to improve operational response and incidents command.

Keeping the public and their property, including businesses, safe from harm and the risk from fires cost money, however, it is a price we all should be willing to pay to protect our homes and our family. The government has a choice to make in raising the necessary revenue to provide us with adequate protection from the risk of fires. Businesses, especially the insurance industry, should be prepared to contribute towards a one-off levy on their profits ring-fenced towards the upgrading of our fire and rescue service. Indeed, it is within their interest since the locations of our fire stations are clearly to protect big businesses and not householders.

One should consider this. If the fire crew on the Carenage could not prevent the building at Paddock from being engulfed in flames, what are the chances of properties situated in the suburban areas of the city? And one of the key factors in this is our emergency services response time which should be public knowledge. Without knowing this it would be extremely difficult to improve the emergency services the public is receiving.

At the time of day of the Paddock fire, the response time from the fire crew on the Carenage should have been approximately three minutes; the crew from Grand Anse, eight minutes and the crew from Maurice Bishop International Airport approximately 13 minutes. It would be interesting to see the official response time of all three crews.

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