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Fire Service Chaos

Lack of funding lead to deterioration

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 25, 2014    

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FIGURES produced by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis have suggested a severe lack of capital funding for the Jamaica fire service, over the years, as the primary reason for its deterioration.

Her performance audit report showed that the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) received less than 13 per cent of the budget it had requested from the Government to meet its capital expenses over the last five years, including acquiring new vehicles and equipment as well as repairing vehicles and fire stations.

The report, which was tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday, showed that the cash-starved fire service has descended into chaos after receiving only $629.7 million of the $5.1 billion it sought from the budget, and the problems were existing up to the point of the compilation of the report on the audit in June 2014.

The auditor general reported that the situation had deteriorated to the extent that even the fire brigade headquarters in Kingston did not meet its own fire safety standards, although its officers have been taking action against owners of buildings inspected and showing the same deficiencies.

"The deficiencies include loose and exposed electrical wires, missing electrical panels, and the need for fire extinguishers, fire alarms and automatic smoke detectors," Monroe Ellis said. However, she pointed out that her audit found that the JFB does not even have a comprehensive policy to guide building inspection activities.

"JFB presented an undated and unapproved one-page document, which outlined basic information about the objectives of its inspection activity. The document outlined that the principal objectives of the fire department inspections include: to obtain proper life safety condition; keep fires from starting and spreading; and to check the adequacy and maintenance of in-house fire protection appliances and system," she explained.

In terms of the lack of financing, she showed that in 2011/2012 and 2012/20013, the JFB only received between six and seven per cent of the capital financing of $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion which it sought from the national budget, respectively. In 2009/2010, the brigade only received five per cent of the $335.3 million which it sought in its request for capital financing.

"JFB requested from the Government amounts totalling $5.14 billion between 2007-2008 and 2013-2014, for capital expenditure to allow them to acquire firefighting vehicles and equipment, rehabilitation of fire vehicles and repairs to fire stations and fire hydrants. However, JFB only received $629.7 million of the amount requested over the period," Monroe Ellis reported.

The report showed that 41 per cent of the brigade's fleet of 75 emergency vehicles was out of service at the time of the audit; the brigade was not assessing its response time to emergencies; its pilot emergency medical service (EMS), which provides pre-hospital care, was down from six ambulances to one, reducing its response ability to less than 50 per cent of its emergency calls.

The JFB has no fireboat to support firefighting activities, as one of two boats it owned was written off in April by the board of survey, and the Ministry of Finance and Planning gave approval in February for the second boat to be sold.

Repair of the second boat was assessed at $11.6 million. It was placed in storage for four years, 2009 to 2013, while minor repairs were done. The repairs and the storage cost the JFB $9.1 million, although the boat remained inoperable and docked in storage during the period.

The JFB struggled on with the boat past 2012, although a task force had determined that the cost to fully rehabilitate the vessel had risen to US$500,000 or approximately J$44 million.

The auditor general also reported that 37 per cent of the nation's fire hydrants were inoperable, as only 8,288 of the 13,207 hydrants islandwide were working at the time of the audit in May.

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