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Jamaica to get more fire boats

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com
Thursday, November 07, 2013


THE Jamaica Fire Brigade says it is in the process of developing the specifications to order more fire boats, amid calls for the Government to shore up the current fleet.

"...We are developing some specs for ordering some of these boats. It's not something we can just go on a lot and purchase; you have to develop specs and then they build them to these specifications. It's actually a very lengthy process, so it's something we are actually working on now," he told the weekly Monday Exchange forum of the Jamaica Observer.

Opposition Spokesperson on Local Government Desmond McKenzie in April this year urged the Government to act quickly to procure fireboats to escape embarrassment in the event a blaze breaks out on a cruise vessel while it is in Jamaican waters.

"I am going to be on you, because we need to purchase even one more fire boat, we have cruise ships of all magnitude coming to Jamaica and we should do everything in our power to keep them because if the international community finds out that we are incapable of even doing the basic things, then we are going to be in serious problems; we depend a lot on the tourist dollar so we should ensure something is done," McKenzie said at the time.

In April 2012, Opposition Senator Robert 'Bobby' Montague questioned the integrity of the Government's fire boat system. Montague, tabling questions for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Senator A J Nicholson in the Senate, enquired about the number of fire boats that were functioning. He also questioned whether Jamaica was a signatory to any international treaty or convention which requires the country to have a functioning fire boat system.

Monday, Acting Senior Deputy Superintendent Emilio Ebanks, second in command of fire prevention at the Jamaica Fire Brigade, assured that the calls had not been ignored.

In the meantime, Senior Deputy Superintendent Alrick Hacker, first in command for fire prevention, said any outbreaks had not been left up to chance even though only one fire boat (stationed in St Ann) is currently operational.

"We usually have three fire boats in operation we only now have one. However in the absence of the fire boats arrangements are in place with our coast guards and the marine police to respond and deal with any eventualities but we still have the assistance of the firemen who normally man those. But operational plans are in place in the case of any eventuality that the marine and coastguards can respond," the senior deputy superintendent said.

His Acting Senior Deputy Superintendent also pointed out that even with that understanding the Brigade still manned all fire boat stations.

"It is the understanding between us and the marine police and the coastguards once these kinds of calls come in they will respond to our base. Our equipment and persons are still there. If we look at it most of the marine police stations tend to be beside fire boat stations," he told Observer editors and reporters.

He also explained why the current fire boats are no longer the vessels of choice for the brigade.

"One of the things with the fire boats we had and why they had to be dry-docked was the cost of the maintenance. Technology has increased so much now that the size of the boats that we had at one time you can now get a boat for a third that cost and a third the size and it still does a better job," he explained.

"We need to have smaller boats that will do the same amount of work as the boats we had before or even more. So that's what we are actually working on," he added.

He, however, noted that vessels sailing Jamaican waters are not doing so on a whim.

"But one of the good things about the shipping industry is that no boat or ship can actually go out there on the water without having its own firefighting crew, its own firefighting equipment and they cannot run out of water," Ebanks pointed out.

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott, responding to McKenzie's queries in April, had said representation had been made for a provision for the equipment to be included in this year's budget to no avail.

"But it is expected to be in next year's budget; we certainly hope that in the next budget we will have provision for perhaps two fire boats," Arscott said at the time.

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