Forestry Division gets firefighting equipment

A firefighter moves a hose after putting out a blaze. - File photo by Roger Jacob
A firefighter moves a hose after putting out a blaze. - File photo by Roger Jacob

The Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries has received new wildfire-fighting equipment. The equipment was handed over to the division by the Ministry of Planning and Development. The Ministry of Planning and Development handed over the equipment at the Botanic Gardens, Port of Spain, on May 23.

This was part of a project called BIOREACH: Biodiversity Conservation and Agro Ecological Land Restoration in Productive Landscapes of TT. This four-year project, valued at US$22,454,792, is sponsored by grant funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Government. It aims to address the threat to local biodiversity and productive landscapes from unsustainable livelihood practices such as poor land use, encroachment into protected areas and forest fires.

Speaking at the handing over, Emergency Management Authority (EMA) chair Nadra Nathai-Gyan, said the agency’s role in the BIOREACH project was representative of its core mission to be stewards of the country’s environment. She said through the project the EMA was seeking to restore areas such as the Northern Range and Courland watershed, which are prone to yearly bush fires.

Deputy permanent secretary of the ministry Kishore Lutchman said the equipment includes personal protective equipment (PPE), firefighting tools and planning and communication equipment. He said the supply will ensure the division is better able to prevent and manage forest fires on the front lines

“With approximately $275,000 worth of equipment that is being officially handed over to the Forestry Division today and which will be handed over to the Department of Natural Resources and Forestry of the Tobago House of Assembly on June 5, we are poised to confront the challenges of the annual forest fire season with renewed vigour and resilience.”

Deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Ric Javed Ali received the equipment on the ministry’s behalf. He expressed immense gratitude to the Planning Ministry, the EMA and other stakeholders for the procurement of the equipment. He said receiving the equipment marked a significant juncture in the country’s journey towards biodiversity conservation and sustainable land restoration.

He said, “These tools will be put to immediate use in the next phase of our project. This involves the demarcation of five hectares of land using prescribed burn methods for site preparation and planting in denuded areas. This phase is critical for enhancing our ability to monitor, prevent, detect, and suppress wildfires, ultimately protecting our forests and communities.”

Speaking after the event, forester at the South West Conservancy Sheldon Williams said his duties included management and protection of forest resources, including wildfire management.

He said, “Today we received much-neededtools and equipment for fire protection and fire suppression. In the past, we have had challenges with a lack of these tools and sometimes these tools are in disrepair.

"We have to make long journeys into the forest, so we require tools that are manageable and tools that workers can manipulate.

"From time to time we also have to protect structures and homes from the effects of bush fires. Because of a lack of these tools, earlier in the year some of our plantations were burnt and some of our resources lost, so we are grateful for the tools that were presented to us.”

This handover comes amidst repeated complaints by fire officers about a lack of PPE.

In an April 4 Newsday report, Fire Service Association president Keone Guy said his members were willing to walk away from their jobs after officers attended to a fire in Zion Hill, Penal, which left them needing medical attention.

The officers said they did not have the appropriate breathing equipment to enter the burning building.

Guy said he believed the approximately 2,000 firefighters in the country had fewer than ten breathing apparatus sets between them.

On April 28, the Ministry of National Security put out an ad inviting tenders to supply 225 self-contained breathing apparatus sets used by firefighters for oxygen and to protect against dangerous gases.

The deadline for submissions is June 6.

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