A detachment of the Barbados Fire Service appears to be in hot water and a supervising officer has been sent on leave after refusing to respond to a COVID-19 emergency, on the grounds that they were inadequately trained or equipped with the necessary protective equipment.
Chief Fire Officer Errol Maynard and President of the Barbados Fire Service Association Corey Bridgeman separately confirmed the incident while declining to share the details.
Barbados TODAY investigations have however revealed that the controversy surrounds four fire officers attached to the Arch Hall Fire Station who, on Monday, were given instructions to help transfer an alleged 300lb COVID-positive woman at a St Lucy address into an ambulance.
In response to the request from a senior fire officer, the supervising officer at Arch Hall reportedly said he was uncomfortable leading the mission because there was insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to adequately protect them from infection.
“All that was in there was the white suit. No disposable gloves, no facemasks, no face shield. The supervisor told the officer that he is not trained and the other thing is that this was this guy’s second day back to work after being COVID-19 positive,” the source informed Barbados TODAY.
The official explained that while some officers specially trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) are usually asked to carry out such missions, none of the four on duty fell into this category. In fact, the source claimed that an official from the Ministry of Health and Wellness indicated that officials from the Harrison Point Isolation facility would be best equipped to manage the case.
Nevertheless, the source explained that an acting Divisional Officer informed the firemen that they needed to go to the scene. After going back and forth on the issue over the phone, an acting Station Officer, accompanied by a policeman and a soldier, who they learned was a captain, arrived. After attempts to persuade the men were unsuccessful, the senior fire officer issued a direct order for the men to carry out the mission. In response, the crew reported ill and went home.
Days later, the supervising officer was informed that an investigation was being conducted into the incident and he was asked to take personal leave pending the outcome of the probe, according to the source.
Barbados TODAY understands that for paramilitary organisations like the fire service, disobeying a lawful command is considered a serious infraction and as such, military or paramilitary officers are usually encouraged to “act and then complain”.
“But you cannot act in that situation and then file a complaint, because that is your health that you’re talking about,” said the source who was sympathetic to the plight of the officers.
“This thing is downright unfair. They teach you in the fire service that you should not attempt to do a particular job if you are not comfortable. If you are going into a well, it is not because an officer was told that he has to go into the well… and if you are not comfortable dealing with heights, you can’t send a man on heights.
“So if you don’t have the protective equipment and protective clothing, you don’t have the face masks, how could you expect your crew to go to an incident like that,” the source added.
When contacted, the Chief Fire Officer said: “I am aware of a matter in which officers disobeyed instructions that were given to them and that is an internal thing. At this stage, I wouldn’t want to comment on it.”
The president of the Fire Service Association confirmed he was also aware of the situation under investigation, but that he was not yet in a position to discuss the details.
“I can’t comment on the situation as yet,” said Bridgeman.
Barbados TODAY understands that on Tuesday, the day after the incident occurred, officers at Arch Hall Fire Station started receiving training to assist them with the donning of PPE and other matters related to COVID-19. [email protected]