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Saturday 17 March 2018

Facing the fire

It seems red tape is fireproof when it comes to supplying new equipment to the Fire Service. According to Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon, it takes a whopping 18 months just to receive new vehicles after they are ordered. And it probably takes twice as much to run the entire procurement process, not counting the allocation of government funding.

So the commissioning last week of 17 brand new vehicles, which cost $37 million, had the aura of a Christmas miracle. The new vehicles include five water tankers, three water tenders, an emergency tender, a hydraulic platform and seven ambulances.

These vehicles must be carefully distributed across the Fire Service to ensure they reap maximum rewards. But while 17 new vehicles are nothing to sneeze at, shortages within the Fire Service as well as continued weaknesses in parts of our water infrastructure mean the new stock is unlikely to be the panacea to the problems fire-fighters have when facing fire.

There is a problem with resources in the security services overall which has been aggravated by limited funds as well as an unwieldy procurement process. Things are bad when it takes more than a year for departments as essential as those battling to save human life to get much-needed equipment.

However, the need for a robust procurement process is clear. The issues surrounding 2013’s $6.8 million Blanchisseuse wreck are not forgotten. But it is one thing to be robust, another to be endlessly Byzantine.

With the Fire Service acting as a first responder for even non-fire related matters, this may be the moment to consider whether one streamlined emergency service is needed instead of a separation between the Office for Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), the regional corporations, and the divisions of the Defence Force that are normally roped into service.

A single emergency agency could result in efficient procurement processes and better management of assets. It could also be a way to address the shortcomings revealed by the ODPM’s disastrous response to flooding over this year’s Divali holiday.

It could also reduce wasteful duplication. Why should the Fire Service be without a chief medical officer when other government departments have similar officials? A streamlined agency could have its own medical official or serve as one point of contact to share government resources. Then maybe our fire-fighters might be able to fire on all cylinders


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