Fighting fire with fire

CALYPSO ROSE took to the Coachella stage last Friday, overcoming a tumble before soaring to new heights, setting the crowd ablaze with her song Fire In Your Wire.

But just as the dust was settling on that scintillating performance, officers at the Scarborough Fire Station were dealing with a blaze of a different nature. By the time they got things under control, 35 per cent of their fire station, the main fire station in Tobago’s densely-populated capital, was destroyed.

If there is any place that is supposed to be prepared for a fire, it is a fire station. That the Scarborough station succumbed is a flagrant embarrassment that demands urgent action from the State, both the central executive and the Tobago House of Assembly. It underlines the need for an audit of the resources available to fire officers.

The importance of the Scarborough station cannot be overstated. It is one of just three stations on the island of Tobago. Its catchment area includes not only the port district but also a dozen suburbs. The other main station at Crown Point covers the international airport and environs, while the Roxborough Fire Station is miles away on the winding Windward Road.

The shutdown of the station is a major blow, coming in the middle of an unusually harsh dry season which has already seen a proliferation of bush fires. More alarmingly, suspicion is rife that a pyromaniac is on the loose in Mason Hall.

Even seemingly well-prepared places can succumb to dangers. This is one lesson from the Notre Dame fire in Paris on Monday, which saw an architectural masterpiece esteemed the world over left with a gaping hole.

But officers in Tobago had special warning. According to president of the Fire Services Association Leo Ramkissoon, there was a smaller fire at the station several months ago caused by faulty electrical connections. Frustratingly, there are reports the association tried to raise the issue in December.

What response or action was taken by the State is unclear. However, this problem did not develop overnight, nor will it be fixed overnight.

Scarborough is the result of years of inertia. While the attention of the ministry has been turned to the issue of crime, the equally burning need to maintain basic infrastructure has fallen by the wayside. The wasteful spending of $6.5 million to retrieve a fire tender in Blanchisseuse years ago stands in stark contrast to the conditions officers are enduring. The dilapidated bungalow housing the Point Fortin station is to be upgraded soon, National Security Minister Stuart Young promised in March.

According to figures given by Ramkissoon, there are about ten emergency calls to fire stations daily. Yet stations lack tenders. In the absence of the most basic equipment, is the State telling fire officers to fight fire with fire?


"Fighting fire with fire"

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