Fire chief says more stations needed across island

Fire chief says more stations needed across island

Senior staff reporter

Friday, February 22, 2019

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HEAD of the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) Commissioner Stewart Beckford has highlighted the urgent need for more fire stations across the island, to enable firefighters to respond to incidents in a more timely manner.

There are currently 34 stations serving the island’s 14 parishes, seven of which are in Kingston and St Andrew — the largest concentration of stations.

Speaking at this week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, the commissioner noted that in addition to the inadequate number of stations to service the growing population, the sites, although structurally sound, are in various states of disrepair.

“It is our belief that every major town with a high life and risk profile should have at least one fire station. Currently, that’s not the case,” Beckford said.

He noted that in Trelawny, for example, there is one fire station serving the entire parish.

“Last time I checked, Trelawny has about 33,000 houses, there are hotels going up… So just to have one fire station serving that entire division is really a stretch. To add to that, the station in Falmouth has one firefighting pumper. What you find happening sometimes is if there is a fire close to the fire station, they will respond, but if there is something happening on the other side (of the parish), we would probably have to get Christiana or Frankfield (fire stations) to go in,” he explained.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Julian Davis Buckle, who is in charge of fire prevention, added that due to the station’s location, a fire may be within the parish but a station in Manchester may have to respond if Manchester is closer to the scene.

“So the more fire stations, the easier it is with response time and our ability to start fighting fires quicker,” she said.

The JFB commissioner noted that a 2009 fire cover review of the structure of the organisation and its response capabilities had identified the need for additional stations across the island.

Some of the areas identified for additional stations include Papine, currently covered by the Half-Way-Tree fire station, and Red Hills in St Andrew.

He disclosed that the JFB is in discussion with The University of the West Indies with the hope of establishing a station on the Mona campus.

“If this becomes a reality, it would enhance our firefighting capabilities and operational effectiveness in those areas because that is a high-risk area — we have the hospital, we have a number of schools, dormitory communities, and so on. If we can get this going it will impact positively on how we operate in those communities, August Town, Mavis Bank, et cetera,” he said.

In the meantime, Commissioner Beckford said major repairs are under way at the Spanish Town, Frankfield and Trelawny fire stations.

He noted, too, that three stations are to come on stream between 2019 and 2020 – Barnett Street in St James, Port Maria in St Mary, and Yallahs in St Thomas. He said these projects, which are being implemented by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, are well advanced, with plans to break ground for Barnett Street slated for next month and evaluation has started on the Port Maria contract bid, while the bid for Yallahs is currently out to tender.

Commissioner Beckford pointed out that these are replacements for old stations.

“What we want is to get new stations to take care of the growth as it relates to housing stock, and (hotel) room stock on the north coast,” he said.

The JFB commissioner said marine firefighting capabilities also require attention, as there is no facility at the Falmouth station for marine firefighting, and no dedicated facility for firefighters at the Ocho Rios marine facility. He said the JFB would also like to have marine capabilities in Port Antonio, Portland.

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