Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite says the Freundel Stuart Government wants to put a new fire station in the north of the island, in addition to purchasing new water tenders for the Barbados Fire Service.
But just when this will happen, is anyone’s guess.
“Within the Ministry [of Home Affairs] we are taking to Cabinet, we have not gotten Cabinet’s approval as yet, but we are looking to find a way to get about six new appliances over the next two to three years.”
His comments came as fire officers spent today battling over 20 grass and cane fires.
Yesterday, their resources were equally stretched to their limit, fighting a total of 35 fires, including 22 grass fires, three cane fires, two structural fires, and eight fires which officers were unable to respond to due to a lack of resources.
“I know that yesterday we had some challenges in terms of one or two of the tenders but I am told that they were quickly dealt with by the mechanics at the Fire Service. So again there is a plan in place for us to get a renewal of the fleet,” Brathwaite told Barbados TODAY.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, some officers had told this newspaper there were some major concerns which they had with the service’s administration, chief among which was the recruitment of new officers, the closure of the Arch Hall station during this their “busy period” and continuous promises of a new station at Six Roads in St Philip.
Addressing the Arch Hall issue, Brathwaite noted that the management of the Fire Service would have done due diligence to arrive at their decision to close the facility temporarily for repairs, adding that the improvements that were coming would be to the benefit of all in the service.
“The other reality is that the north, unlike what you can see happening in St Philip and St George, St Philip in particular, the north of the island doesn’t have lots of bush fires and cane fires that we have up in my part of the world [the east of the island].
“So when we looked at it, we would not have seen any reason to be concerned in terms of being not able to respond to the normal fires in the north of the island.
“I know your next question will be if we are going to give consideration to having something [there] because Weston is inadequate. In fact, just yesterday we did a tour of Arch Hall and one of the things that we discussed was what are we going to do about finding a location for a new fire station in the north of the island,” he revealed, but was unsure of when this might happen.
“Do not ask me when we are going to be likely to get it done because unless Government has the land, we have to then acquire land, then we need to have the physical space to build the new station, etcetera.”
Brathwaite, who is also the Attorney General, went to great lengths to rubbish suggestions that Government could do more to address current manpower issues in the Fire Service.
He pointed to a lawsuit filed by officers who contend they have been unjustifiably overlooked for promotion.
This has resulted in more than 20 interviews for promotions in the Fire Service being placed on hold by the law courts, Brathwaite said.
He further explained that Government had escalated the appointments of the senior officers in order “free up the junior posts so that we could actually proceed with the appointments”.
Brathwaite said because of the pending case, all appointments had to be ceased.
“Therefore, the space in terms of freeing up the positions so we can hire the additional fire officers; we cannot go ahead with that until the legal proceedings have been completed.
“So in fact, we are very cognizant of the fact that we [are] very short of officers.
“That is why we tried to get the appointments of the seniors done as quickly as possible so that when they moved up in the ranks it would free up the positions for us to fill those vacancies that would have been created.
“We accept that we could use a few more bodies. Indeed, if memory serves me correct, we spent close to $300,000 last year in flexi-time – that is a fact. The [officers] would have been working additional hours. It shows that even fiscal space is there to hire additional officers and I would like that because it is not an ideal situation for officers to be working 12 hours a day consistently from time to time like now, this time of the year when we are severely challenged in terms of bush fires and cane fires and so on,” he stated.
As for plans for the much talked about station at Six Road, St Philip, he said land would have been acquired last year to build a municipal complex, inclusive of facilities for a fire station, the police and a magistrate’s court.
“We have to look at the structure that we are going to place there and obviously discuss with the Ministry of Finance . . . whether we have the fiscal space to do it. I, for obvious reasons, being from St Philip, and recognizing the tremendous development that is going to take place in St Philip. Bushy Park, for example, we are going to need to have a facility in Six Roads. So it is something that is on the cards but I can’t give you a definitive answer in terms of when we will get it done.”