Every year for the past several decades, citizens have noted the fact that the Ministry of National Security has always received sizeable chunks of Trinidad and Tobago’s national budgets for its operations. It has always been the hope that this money is spent wisely and that taxpayers receive the benefit, since it is an area deemed critical to making citizens’ lives comfortable.
Of course, despite this considerable expenditure, some sectors of the public continue to place themselves under self-imposed restrictions due to the level of crime and in recent months, a spike in murders, as a minority bent on nefarious activity continues to hold the majority to ransom.
It seems, however, that the T&T Police Service’s failings are not the only area of the ministry that needs more serious scrutiny.
On Monday night, citizens became seriously concerned after a fire ignited at Gemini Inks Caribbean Limited in Point Lisas, Couva. Apart from the loss of property and investment for the owners of the business, there was concern for other properties in the country’s largest industrial estates. That anxiety was spurred by citizens’ fear that the fire could spread to other properties, since the estate is home to over 100 companies involved in heavy industry focusing on the production of petrochemicals such as methanol, ammonia and urea.
This is because of the lack of preparedness of the T&T Fire Service for a major fire hazard. Even while fire officers from stations in central, north and south Trinidad were fighting the blaze, Confederation of Regional Business Chambers president Jai Leladharsingh was noting that his organisation has been urging Government to establish a specialised fire station within the estate.
The dire state of the service was driven home yesterday when Fire Officers Association president Leo Ramkissoon accused the Ministry of National Security of negligence in its handling of the service’s needs. Ramkissoon has been vocal about the lack of equipment, including fire appliances, before but reiterated that his colleagues are ill-prepared for even major house fires, much less the chemical disaster which was waiting to happen on the Gemini compound, where containers holding various chemicals and flammable liquids were stored.
It is beyond this newspaper how, at this stage of our existence, there are still no major fire stations in the hearts of our major industrial sites or our energy belts fully outfitted with equipment and specially trained fire personnel capable of dealing with chemical, petrochemical and electrical fires.
This was the second incident of such nature in that part of the country this year. In March, an explosion at the NiQuan Energy, a gas-to-liquids plant in Pointe-a-Pierre, also required major Fire Service resources to be brought under control. In both instances, T&T dodged major bullets as far as broader disasters were concerned.
With the COVID-19 pandemic having ravaged many businesses, forcing some of them into bankruptcy and with it the resulting loss of jobs, T&T can ill-afford to see the loss of existing operations still fighting to get back on track due to our fire-fighters lack of preparedness.
As such, we hope Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds will now put some effort into resolving the Fire Service’s needs.