Burning problem

Leo Ramkissoon -
Leo Ramkissoon -

AS THE HOUSE in which Malcolm Diaz, 98, lay dying burned, neighbours frantically tried to help.

With crucial minutes passing, minutes which might have made the difference between death and survival, they had to call three separate fire stations: Santa Cruz, San Juan and then Wrightson Road.

The fire hydrant directly in front of the house was dry. It is unclear what caused the blaze, which saw the million-dollar property destroyed. As a result, it is not yet possible to rule out that a failure of oversight of some form or fashion is partly to blame.

What is clear is that Mr Diaz, a well-known radio caller who was so popular he was called “Mr Santa Cruz,” likely died of smoke inhalation. In a country with a billion-dollar annual budget, this is unfathomable.

A huge part of the problem is the shortage of appliances at the disposal of the Fire Service.

According to Leo Ramkissoon, the president of the Fire Service Association – the group that represents fire officers – the buck in this regard stops with the office of the Chief Fire Officer. However, whoever is responsible for the timely procurement of such equipment, the State needs to act far more urgently to ensure that the basic safety needs of citizens are being addressed.

This should include expediting the necessary oversight and allocation systems that involve the Ministry of Finance.

For a long time, the emphasis has been on the physical infrastructure that supports the Fire Service, with a regular drip feed of ribbon-cuttings for new stations under successive governments.

Yet ironically, the lack of appliances has been an issue brewing alongside the expansion of building facilities.

In a Newsday interview in April, Chief Fire Officer Arnold Bristo said the Fire Service was exploring “cost-effective solutions” in procuring equipment from manufacturers with durable and cost-effective vehicles.

Also, at that time, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said two new fire tenders from the Netherlands were on the way to Trinidad.

Over the years, efforts to address shortages have been mired in controversy over exorbitant costs, such as the $10 million fire truck fiasco under former minister of works and transport Jack Warner.

While there is a need to avoid wastage, and officials might be tempted to cut corners for the sake of prioritising other areas of expenditure, fire safety should be a basic component of the package of services offered by the State.

“If a major fire breaks out in Port of Spain, God forbid, while we are on a call in Blanchisseuse, we would have to get a truck from Four Roads, San Juan or Tunapuna to respond,” warned Mr Ramkissoon this week.

We should not wait for such an eventuality before acting.


"Burning problem"

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