GRASS FIRES STRETCHING RESOURCES OF FIRE SERVICE
By Sheria Brathwaite
The recent uptick in grass fires has been putting the Barbados Fire Service under strain and Chief Fire Officer Errol Maynard is pleading with Barbadians to avoid starting fires.
Meanwhile, the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) is urging the Ministry of Education to act more promptly in closing schools impacted by heavy smoke.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY on Monday after 8 p.m., at which time crews were still out fighting fires, Maynard expressed concern that many of the grass fires were caused by people, intentionally or otherwise.
“We are definitely extremely concerned because the fires are stretching our resources beyond limit. Just today, we had in excess of 14 fires up to 7 p.m. and now we are still having fires. They are stretching our resources to the limits, [to the point that] the admin staff, the senior officers, everybody had to come out today,” he said.
Maynard said crews were out from as early as 9 a.m. on Monday in Colleton and Greenidges in St Lucy, Pool in St John, Padmore Village and Farm Road in St Philip, and Callenders and Coral Ridge in Christ Church.
So far this year, there have been 176 grass fires, 20 more than during the January to March period last year.
“All are not due to combustion. Some have to deal with human intervention, accidental or otherwise,” Maynard said about the cause of the fires. “So we are encouraging all persons to avoid burning. Those who are doing it intentionally should stop it and those [doing it] unintentionally should avoid burning; because of the dry conditions and high winds, you will lose control of these fires.”
For the past few weeks, classes at several schools have been affected by billowing smoke.
While saying he was concerned about the disruption, president of the BUT Rudy Lovell said the health of those being impacted by the smoke was more important.
He said he was also concerned about how long it took the Ministry of Education to give the directive to close schools in these circumstances.
“Complaints from our members suggest that in some instances, schools remain open for a prolonged period, waiting for official notice from the Ministry of Education to close, and we would want the ministry to establish a protocol which gives the principal of the school the leeway to make decisions in the best interest of the occupants of the school compound,” Lovell said, noting that while principals wait for the green light from the ministry, students and staff “are suffering from smoke inhalation”.
“We know there are a lot of asthmatics and people with other respiratory ailments and we do not want to expose these people unnecessarily to these environmental issues that can be avoided,” the BUT president added.
In a press release, the Ministry of Education advised parents and guardians to ensure their wards walk with medication if they have respiratory illnesses, noting that they should also have a plan to ensure they can collect their children in a timely manner.