The Barbados Fire Service has begun internal disciplinary proceedings against a supervisor at the Arch Hall Fire Station over his refusal to remove a 300lb woman who had tested positive for COVID-19.
But the officer’s lawyer is already seeking to have Chief Fire Officer Errol Maynard recuse himself from the disciplinary tribunal.
When contacted on Friday, Chief Fire Officer Maynard would only confirm that disciplinary proceedings are ongoing and declined comment on details.
The leading fire officer is facing eight charges including insubordination, willful disobedience to lawful orders under Section 14 of the Fire Service Act, conduct prejudicial to good order or discipline under Section 15 of the Fire Service Act, malingering on duty, and disorderly conduct under the Public Service Act.
If found guilty, the officer could be dismissed from the Fire Service, demoted from his position resulting in a salary cut, be fined $10 or reprimanded. He is liable for one or more of these penalties.
But attorney-at-law Akili Nicholls, who is representing the accused officer, expressed concern at the Chief Fire Officer, who laid the charges, is the same person chairing the tribunal.
She likened the process to a police prosecutor laying charges against an alleged criminal, only to be tried by the same prosecutor, instead of a magistrate.
Nicholls told Barbados TODAY: “If you’re doing a disciplinary tribunal hearing, an independent and impartial tribunal must be empanelled to adjudicate the matter. It should not be the same person who laid the charges and carried out the investigation, as this is a clear breach of the principles of natural justice.
“So when I queried it, I was told that it was an internal investigative hearing. But I don’t understand how you could still be carrying out an investigation if you have already charged the person.
“I think Chief [Maynard] himself is confused as to what type of hearing it should be, but my duty was just to raise the point and caution him regarding the type of hearing, but he still saw it fit to proceed.”
Also sitting on the disciplinary committee is the Deputy Fire Chief and a Divisional Fire Officer.
Nicholls added that if her client receives an unfavourable outcome, it could result in a judicial review claim landing before the High Court.
During Monday’s hearing, the disciplinary committee heard testimony from numerous key witnesses about the events that unfolded on the night of October 11.
An expert witness was also called to provide details about the extent to which officers had been trained and equipped to respond to COVID-19 related emergencies. This witness will be called at the next hearing.
Barbados TODAY understands that one witness was unable to testify on Monday and that a hearing would be convened for his testimony to be heard.
The supervisor, who was initially sent on leave, has been allowed to return to work but is not allowed to engage in his ordinary duties.
Barbados TODAY investigations in mid-October revealed that four fire officers attached to the Arch Hall Fire Station were instructed to help transfer a 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 reportedly said he was uncomfortable leading the mission because there was insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and adequate training in dealing with COVID-19 positive people to adequately protect them from infection.
On the night of the incident, an acting Divisional Officer informed the firemen that they needed to go to the scene, and 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. Their attempts to persuade the men were also unsuccessful, and the crew eventually reported ill and went home.
The Chief Fire Officer has since maintained that officers were given all the necessary tools and training to manage the COVID-19 situation. [email protected]