NASSAU – As toxic smoke continues to billow from the New Providence Landfill, Bahamians have been shocked by the sight of firefighters confronting the unruly blaze without the aid of protective gear.
Pictures of the men without masks battling through the conditions as ash settled on their bare heads were published by The Tribune last week.
The men carried fire hoses and other tools as they spent hours trying to contain and extinguish the fire that disrupted the lives of Jubilee Gardens residents, damaged properties and renewed questions about the state of the landfill.
Heather Carey, the spokeswoman for Raising Awareness about the Bahamas Landfill (RABL), said on Friday that such working conditions are nothing new for the firefighters.
“I’ve been seeing it for years,” she said. “I go out every year to cover these and I’ve seen pictures and commented that the drivers [of firefighting trucks] don’t have any gear. I’ve addressed it. I was more disappointed this time and upset because I watched them go into the fire, not standing behind the fire line.
“They were in there for two hours and there was no way to communicate with them. I cried and I went through the whole range of emotions. To later realise from the pictures that none of them had anything in terms of appropriate facial gear was so concerning.
“People are irate and upset about the fact that they are fighting without any gear.”
The problem has angered some in the policing community, according to Police Staff Association (PSA) Chairman Inspector Dwight Smith, who spoke to The Tribune about the matter last week.
“Someone help please,” one officer said to him via messenger service WhatsApp. “Our firefighters have no mask or safety equipment in Jubilee Gardens at this moment.”
Said another: “Police officers’ lives matter! No mask! No safety equipment for police officers! Thank God Royal Bahamas marines offered meals to their comrades in arms and showed them camaraderie. [But] shame on our police leaders – Signed, disgusted officer.”
Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers in the Jubilee Gardens area appear to have been better equipped than the police firefighters.
Sanigest Internacional, a leading healthcare consultancy and management company in Costa Rica, donated 20 facemasks to the firefighters, delivering them to the men late last week.
“The [masks aren’t] perfect but the community wanted them to have something,” Carey said. “The firefighters said they also need eye protection gear. They were really happy for what they got and were glad that people were thinking about them and were appreciative.”
RABL wants to do more for the firefighters and is examining costing associated with this.
“If we can come up with a plan that enough people are passionate about, the question is, can we move fast enough in the next few weeks to help them? If it takes three months to get what we want, then at that point we’ll reassess our plan. If election happens and there is a new party in place that’s more receptive to budgeting for this then that will influence our plans as well,” Carey said.
The landfill fire, which began a week ago, is still burning, however last Thursday Prime Minister Perry Christie said the blaze was close to being extinguished. However smoke emanated again from the dump over the weekend.