A modern fire and rescue service is to emerge from a complete overhaul of the law governing the Barbados Fire Service, Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams said on Wednesday.
In remarks during the passing out parade of nearly two-dozen firefighter recruits at the Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute of Technology, Abrahams said there has been no large-scale revision of the Fire Service Act since 1961 to modernize it and bring it in line with the current practices in the field.
The proposed overhaul is intended to allow the Barbados Fire Service to evolve into a comprehensive fire management and rescue operation which can deliver a modern fire and rescue service that responds to the demands of the 21st Century, he said.
He told the Recruit Class #39: “The attempt to augment the Department’s EMT skill set signals a deliberate intention to assist in the provision of pre-hospital care in Barbados.
“The Fire Service is one of our main responders and this initiative falls well within its normal operations. It is already well known that the service has the lead in search and rescue as well as the management of hazardous material incidents. This means that the modem recruits must be multi-skilled and must be equipped to perform effectively and completely from the beginning.
“The service is also paying attention to the training not only for its staff, but for other professionals in the industry, as well as the general public, both local and regional.”
Through an arrangement with the Barbados Community College, the Fire Service allows trainees to pay a small fee to the college when pursuing certain courses, allowing them to receive certification and college credits on successful completion.
He also announced that fuel distributor SOL Barbados Ltd is also working with the Fire Service to provide training props at both the Fire Academy and at the Airport Fire Station. He said the props will be designed to use propane gas instead of heavy diesel, gasoline and kerosene to provide for a clean burn and protect the environment as much as possible.
The home affairs minister added: “The service is also in the preliminary planning stage with the Samuel Jackman Polytechnic Institute of Technology to establish capacity to assist in the training of seafarers.
“This facility will also include the development of training props to simulate shipboard and confined space fires.
“Additionally, it will eventually lead to the certification of local instructors to meet the International Maritime Organization standards.
“In the very near future, a new Fire Service Headquarters Complex will be constructed at Prince Road, the Pine, St Michael.
“This complex is expected to house the Bridgetown Fire Station, the Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement Unit, Fire Service Administration Headquarters and the Emergency Ambulance Service.
“It is anticipated that this will provide a framework for a closer collaboration and working relationship between the Emergency Ambulance Service and the Barbados Fire Service. It, therefore, makes strategic sense to have these two entities housed and working together.
“Such an arrangement will benefit both the personnel and the public of Barbados, as it provided the opportunity for a greater range of training, the acquisition of skills, much shorter responses for medical and trauma calls and routine joint responses to assist the public of Barbados. It will also allow for the sharing of resources such as a central Dispatch Centre, maintenance and workshop facilities and living quarters.
“These provisions can only translate into better and more efficient service to the public and less cost to taxpayers of Barbados.”
The six-month training programme began during the COVID-19 lockdown. It started virtually with the participants at home being taught using Microsoft Teams applications and included Emergency Medical Technician training as a component of the programme.
Abrahams, who applauded the Fire Service’s administration for taking the bold step to facilitate the training programme during the lockdown, also commended the Chief Fire Officer Errol Maynard for not letting the constraints of the pandemic delay the training programme which was conducted under Ministry of Health protocols.
The minister also told the graduates that while acknowledging that the programme is rigorous and difficult, the additional challenge of being forced to be away from home and their families for six months did not help. But he declared the class of recruits to be unique as they spent the entire six months housed at the Fire Academy, which was necessary to ensure that the coronavirus had little or no impact on their completion of the training.
Abrahams told the class: “The training that you received over the past six months has laid the groundwork and what happens next in your career is entirely up to you. You must at all times strive for excellence. There is no room for error; a mistake by you could mean the difference between life and death for someone else.
“You came with drive and motivation into this programme and this got you through this challenging training. Let the same drive and motivation propel your career as firefighters and heroes of Barbados. There is a nobility in this profession that must not be taken for granted.”
Chief Fire Officer Maynard said Recruit Class #39 was the first cohort of firefighers in training for six months, the first to be confined to barracks for the entire duration of the training and the first to be trained additionally as Emergency Medical Technicians.
Maynard said: “I commend you for your resolve during the trying and difficult six months that has ended. While some of you bellyache and cry for mummy and wife and daughter, you stuck it out to the end. In spite of the isolation periods, you demonstrated that you have chosen the right career, one of resilient brave men and women.
“I congratulate you for making it to the end of your initial training and the beginning of a professional journey. It is not the end of training because I can assure you that training is ongoing in the Barbados Fire Service.”
Recruit #364 Dylan Scantlebury was awarded the trophy for Top Recruit out of the batch of 23.