MR Willis Berry's frightening experience in Manchester last month has again highlighted the State's failure to provide a reliable fire service in rural Jamaica.
A story in yesterday's edition of the Jamaica Observer explained how Mr Berry called the Manchester Fire Department on July 31 to tell them that a fire on a neighbouring property was heading towards a power generator in his backyard.
Instead of being provided with what is a vital service, for which Jamaicans like Mr Berry pay taxes, he was told that the lone fire truck at the station was disabled. Help, he was told, would have to be sought from a fire station in neighbouring Clarendon, more than 20 miles away.
So Mr Berry, fearing the worst and recognising that a fire unit from Clarendon could not possibly get to him in time to prevent a disaster, secured help from a caretaker and used water from his tank to put out the blaze.
The sad reality is that Mr Berry's experience is not unique. There are many communities, particularly in rural Jamaica, that are vulnerable to such hazards.
We have seen it often enough; a building -- most times a house -- is engulfed in flames, but residents can only watch as it is razed because the lone fire truck that serves their district is either inoperable or has to travel too far, at times from another parish.
The Government, which has responsibility for the fire service, will quickly tell us that it has no money to provide proper equipment -- working trucks, etc. However, as Mr Berry succinctly pointed out, the State spent nearly $100 million on Emancipation and Independence celebrations earlier this month.
Successive governments have demonstrated to the country that their priorities are misplaced. We would have thought that the present administration -- having had the unenviable task of signing an agreement with the International Monetary Fund and asking the country to make sacrifices -- would have thought twice about that level of expenditure on celebratory activities, even as we acknowledge the historic and cultural significance of Emancipation and Independence.
That $100 million could have been better spent ensuring the availability of vital services that can, if necessary, save lives.
But maybe we are asking too much, as our politicians appear to love the idea of putting on a good show.
Mr Berry, though, is absolutely correct: "You can't have a party tonight and no bread on the table for tomorrow. Put your house in order first."