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Businesses on removal of fire station: Southern city exposed to danger
Business people in San Fernando are saying the removal of the fire station from Lady Hailes Avenue has placed them and the entire city at great risk. Disturbed by health and safety issues last November, more than 48 fire officers evacuated the condemned building and have since been deployed to the south headquarters at Mon Repos, Siparia, Point Fortin, Princes Town and Rio Claro stations.
President of the San Fernando Business Association (SFBA) Daphne Bartlett said she was totally unaware of this development and horrified by the whittling down of manpower to respond effectively to a disaster. “What? They have moved out? When? And left us open? I did not know that. Do you know the length of time it will take for them to get from Mon Repos to High Street, if God forbid, something should happen?
“A full half of an hour and by that time, the whole of High Street would burn down,” she said. She recalled, two Saturdays ago, when two Jamaican men robbed the Detour store on High Street and the owner had them under the barrel of a gun, “it took between 15 to 20 minutes for the police to dance their way through the traffic to get here—and look at the close proximity of the police station to High Street. They could have run down Penitence Street, but that is another story.”
Bartlett called on Minister of National Security Jack Warner to find a suitable building and bring back the fire station to the city. Acting general secretary of the Fire Services Association Dave Sennon, while acknowledging accessibility was an issue, said: “The most important thing for the association is the health and safety of our members. “The protection and coverage for citizens is the responsibility of another entity. Not us.”
Sennon said there were health and safety risks associated with the building, which fire officers had been “temporarily” occupying for some ten years. He recalled that they moved to the former Norwegian Seamen’s Hostel when the station on Harris Promenade was condemned and demolished in 2000, and that arrangement was supposed to be for three years.
However, with asbestos in the roof, structural cracks and the integrity of the building in question, Sennon said they had little choice but to evacuate the building, which is owned by the San Fernando City Corporation. A retired senior fire officer said his colleagues may have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. He said while the building was not the best, they had a unit to do rapid repairs, and reports suggested that the building was habitable if the asbestos was left undisturbed.
“I get a feeling that the tail is wagging the dog, because those buildings on High Street are old, they have no firewall, no protection,” he said. “You need a complement of men and appliances within striking distance to hold off a fire until you could get assistance. But in San Fernando, right now, you have absolutely no coverage.”
Bartlett agreed that while the officers’ health and safety may be in question, “We have to weigh things and strike a happy medium. I don’t know that the issues warranted the whole station being moved. That was the ideal spot, easy accessibility to the city and salt water from the sea to fight fires, rather than potable water.”
Fire chief responds
Acting Chief Fire Officer Naya Rampersad said the Fire Service’s response to any incident in the city was not compromised. “We guarantee a full response from the fire station at Mon Repos,” he said. “We are not complacent, I am not very comfortable with it, but we are looking at a temporary facility to have a suitable response from an area outside of Mon Repos.”
He said the building at Lady Hailes Avenue was in a very deplorable state and rather than expose officers to that health risk, they were withdrawn. Rampersad said lands have been identified along Lady Hailes Avenue, San Fernando, for the construction of a new fire station. That project is being undertaken by the Urban Development Corporation.
In the interim, Rampersad said he has made recommendations for a temporary, prefabricated structure to be constructed on the identified site and suggested the business community could help identify a suitable building nearby.
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