Fire Service Association roasts Hinds for ‘confusionist’ remark

A firefighter closes his eyes tightly in an effort to shut out the smoke as he battles a bush blaze on Balisier Avenue, San Fernando, on April 7.  - Photo by Jeff Mayers
A firefighter closes his eyes tightly in an effort to shut out the smoke as he battles a bush blaze on Balisier Avenue, San Fernando, on April 7. - Photo by Jeff Mayers

FIRE Service Association president Keone Guy said National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds’ repeated assertions that the Fire Service is “fully equipped” can be debunked by Government’s failure to supply the breathing apparatus it has repeatedly promised.

The ministry issued a public notice in the newspapers on April 28, inviting tenders to supply 225 self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) sets used by firefighters for oxygen and to protect against dangerous gasses. The deadline for submissions is June 6.

Guy said he was “perplexed and angered” by the notice in April 28’s papers.

“Perplexed,” he said, “because requests for purchase of these units were made going back to mid-2021.

“The minister has repeatedly stated both in the Parliament and outside, that the fire service is fully equipped despite the reality conflicting with his statements.”

Guy said the notice angered him because such emergencies should not be met with a bureaucratic process.

“There seems to be something fundamentally wrong with how requests for urgent and necessary equipment are treated at the Ministry of National Security at this time.”

Since the Fire Service is “ubiquitous,” he said, there must be political will to “properly define the problems and create permanent solutions.”

On April 3, Guy called a press conference pleading for the ministry to supply the apparatus as Hinds promised again in his contribution to the 2024 budget debate in October.

Guy complained that there were only ten sets of apparatus for a force of 2,000 fire officers at 24 stations.

He said the shortage of equipment had resulted in increased incidents of illness and injury to officers and greater public risk.

Equipment shortages, lack of fire tenders and Occupation, Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) violations have plagued the service for years, and have been raised by successive Fire Service Association presidents.

Guy referred to the minister’s attempts to downplay issues.

On April 26, Opposition MP for Oropouche East Roodal Moonilal asked Hinds in the House of Representatives about broken air-conditioning units inside the men’s dormitory at the fire service’s Wrightson Road headquarters, which forced officers to sleep in the parking bay.

Hinds trained his guns on people “who could only be properly described as ‘confusionists, bacchanalists and scandalous.’

“There are those who take every opportunity to raise bacchanal and scandal, which get in the way of the serious development efforts,” he charged.

Hinds eventually answered, saying Chief Fire Officer Arnold Bristo “immediately actioned the repairs” to the unit when it was brought to his attention on April 23 and said the repairs would be complete by April 27. While Hinds did not identify the “confusionists,” Guy said he interpreted the comments as a direct insult to all officers who had risked their health and safety.

“The statement made by the minister labelling those persons outside Parliament as ‘confusionists’ was received by its intended audience. That is the men and women of the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service who leave the safety of their homes daily and head to these facilities that I can best describe as uninhabitable.

“Those same men and women who occupy those stations, despite a lack of equipment, most notably the BA sets, firefighting appliances and specialist rescue tools – their patience has run absolutely thin because of the many failed promises by the very minister. He then turns and slaps them once again in the face and labels them ‘confusionists.’ I find that to be very unfortunate.”

Guy said the association had noted a worrying increase in injuries and illnesses he believed were associated with the job and would have been prevented with proper tools.

He said at least one-third of the reported injuries in the past year were attributable to the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We also have a growing number of officers being diagnosed with cancer and other job-related illnesses. Then there is the auxiliary officer who faces all these conditions, yet is awaiting decades-long promises of appointment to permanent and pensionable officers.”

Newsday asked Guy if any officers had considered legal or other redress, and if they could prove their case.

“We have had several officers in recent times who have sadly died from cancer and related complications.

“As for legal redress, it’s premature to comment on any potential actions at this time. Our priority is to address the root causes of these health issues and work towards solutions that prioritise the safety and well-being of our fire officers.

“We will continue to explore all available avenues to advocate for our officers and hold accountable those responsible for any negligence or shortcomings that may have contributed to their health concerns.“

Newsday could not reach Bristo for comment on April 28.


"Fire Service Association roasts Hinds for ‘confusionist’ remark"

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