The Barbados Fire Service’s officers are currently equipped with all the necessary resources to carry out their duties in a COVID-19 environment, Chief Fire Officer Errol Maynard insisted on Wednesday, declaring they have been fully equipped since the start of the pandemic.
The declaration comes amid an investigation into the circumstances in which four officers refused to obey an order to assist with the movement of an unusually heavy woman who was infected with COVID-19, claiming that the necessary protective gear was not made available to them.
Barbados TODAY investigations last week revealed that on Monday, October 11th, the officers attached to the Arch Hall Fire Station were instructed to help transfer an alleged 300-pound woman from a St Lucy address into an ambulance.
After a protracted standoff with senior fire service officials, as well as an official from the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) and the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF), the four officers all went home, reporting ill and days later, the supervisor of the shift was sent on personal leave.
During a tour of Speightstown on Wednesday morning, Chief Maynard again declined to discuss details of the active internal investigation.
But he told Barbados TODAY that even before the pandemic reached Barbadian shores, provisions were made for officers to be trained to operate in the new environment and that based on his explanation, last Monday’s controversial mission was well within the scope of the officers’ duties.
He said: “Even before COVID, fire officers would respond to rescue individuals from vehicles. Fire officers would respond to rescue individuals from vehicles. Fire officers would respond and assist the ambulance service in extricating individuals or lifting very big persons from their homes and if they can’t get them out of their house, we would assist the ambulance service with that.”
The fire chief added that a handful of senior fire officers, including the Deputy Commander, are attached to the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ COVID-19 Logistics Centre and as in any national emergency, fire officers can be called to assist.
He added that much of the personal protective equipment for COVID-19 was already included in their kits and all other necessary protective gear was subsequently made available.
Chief Maynard explained: “Each fire officer is issued with the SCBA mask. During the COVID period, we gave every station a plastic container to put those disposable PPEs in. So at the start of every shift, the supervisor is supposed to make sure that he has adequate supplies for his team.
“We procured and gave each individual an additional face shield. We topped up our Tyvek suits and then we put the measures in place to reduce the number of officers on a fire fighting vehicle at any one time.
“In fact, the mask that a fire officer wears offers even more protection than these face masks because they are closed circuit devices and so no air can get in. Nothing from outside can get in, so even if a fire officer uses one of those, he can sanitise it when he comes back and that is what he is encouraged to do after every fire and after every incident if he uses it and that is good to go again.”
But sources sympathetic to the plight of the embattled officers insisted that training in the donning of the protective gear only started after the incident.
“This is the first time since the incident they started training. I can swear that on my mother’s grave,” said one source.
Barbados TODAY has also learned that supervising officers have also received orders that whenever PPE runs low, they must order additional supplies to prevent deficits in the system.
“Each station, if you have five people on a shift, must have 240 face masks at the station so that you wouldn’t run short,” the source added.
Maynard explained that protocols have been implemented that limit the number of officers allowed in fire tenders, and at the beginning of every shift, fire service vehicles are thoroughly sanitised.
He added that doctors were brought in to advise the officers on best practices, and counselling and chaplain services have also been provided to respond to their mental and spiritual needs.
“We have also appointed a COVID-19 coordinator and every time, whether you are exposed or need testing, you report to this individual and he will consult with the medical personnel and you would be guided accordingly whether you have to stay at home, whether you go into quarantine and that has been working well,” he added.
Barbados TODAY understands that the suspended officer is expected to return to work on Friday.