To many Barbadians, disasters or would-be disasters are a spectacle to rush to and behold –– in particular, those at the heart of which is the fire. Fiery red flames and billowing black smoke are excitable, and make for a feverish thrill.
Such a disposition is born out of an apparent innate and inane type of curiosity sure to kill more than the cat, and which is bred in the circumstance of a perceived immunity to personal danger and a disavowal of common sense. Which would explain some Barbadians’ nonchalance towards restriction of entry to areas of pending disaster.
Their indifference is evident from the very early stages of professional advice on disasters. Too many Barbadians turn up their noses at fire drills in the workplace and will cooperate with no such thing in the home setting. To them, fire drills at best are a joke; at worst, a nuisance. Anyway, they think, they will never be beset by a fire; fires happen elsewhere.
Which is strange, for ever since we were quite young, we have participated at some time or other in an emergency evacuation exercise at school, or as a Scout or Guide. The present-day challenge with the nonchalant Bajan may have come by merely going through the motions of the drill –– without really thinking about what would happen in an actual disaster emergency.
This apathy towards emergency preparedness and response knowledge is displayed every year during the hurricane season, for all the disaster information and advice available and given; but that is another matter. We are driven to refer to this quite honed passive attitude of Barbadians towards disaster emergency in the light of the fire yesterday at the Sewage Treatment Plant at Lakes Folly in The City.
It has become a very bad habit –– that must be broken.
Here it was yesterday afternoon that a fire had broken out at a place where there are stored chemicals, and that the word was initially that there might have been containers of chlorine where the blaze was –– a distinct possibility of a hazard material (HazMat) conflagration, with its combustive explosions and deadly toxic smoke –– and curious onlookers would converge, and potential victims would refuse being evacuated.
What does it say about our grasp of the seriousness of emergencies and our intelligence in the face of danger when Fire Chief Wilfred Marshall has to lament that there were “some challenges with persons in the immediate area [of the Sewage Treatment Plant] who refused to move”. What indeed does it say when police public relations officer Inspector David Welch must call out to the public –– remind them –– to follow the instructions of authorities in emergency situations?
Fortunately, the City plant’s fire was contained to one room, and it was away from the chlorine; and the blaze would be brought under control. Joined and assisted by the police, Defence Force and the Roving Response Team, the Barbados Fire Service squad was all set for the modes of firefighting, evacuation (for all its challenges) and, if necessary, rescue.
It is obviously a credit to the combined teams that normalcy was restored to Lakes Folly by nightfall in spite of the hurdles thrown before them –– which ought not to be allowed to mask the several corrections which need to be made.
Motorists asked to evacuate the area –– for their assured safety and as a matter of protocol –– cannot then circumvent authority by using feeder roads to come back into the area, which, as the as Fire Chief Marshall said, could have caused in a worsening situation the teams to move from a mode of “evacuation to rescue”.
But ordinary Barbadians are not alone in this annoying apathy. So is the Government and, in particular, the architects of the once much touted Bridgetown Emergency Traffic Management Plan. What has become of it?
When pressed with the question, Inspector Welch would only say: “There is no update on that as yet . . . . We can’t really say that we have the plan down pat . . . .”
This of a plan first tested in 2008, but with apparently no other wide-scale tests done subsequently by the authorities. A circumstance that fits in snugly with the apathetic approach of Barbadians to matters of disaster emergency drills and the lack of thought of and urgency in putting in place an appropriate, authoritative, precise, practical and manageable protocol.
So, what will it take to get us past this people indifference and Government lethargy towards emergency safety in this Heritage Site Of Bridgetown? A City catastrophe of such calamitous proportions that could not be erased from our memories? Shall we bide the time in the notion that, for all our transgressions and the growing lack of love for our neighbour, we are still God’s special ones? Or shall we actually have people perish first, as a point of certainty, before we do what is required and right?
Who really cares?
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