MANDEVILLE, Manchester — The threat posed by a bush fire in late July and the inability of the fire department to respond because there was no fire truck has caused one home owner to question the nation's priorities.
Willis Berry, a resident of the upscale Mandeville community of Ingleside, said he called the Manchester Fire Department on July 31 to alert them to a fire on a neighbouring property, which was heading towards a power generator in his backyard.
Berry said he was told by the fire station representative that there could be no immediate help because the lone fire truck was disabled.
"They said that there was one unit, but it is broken down. For them to help they would have to get an engine from Clarendon," Berry, an 85-year-old returned resident told the Jamaica Observer.
Berry, helped by the caretaker of the neighbouring property, resorted to bailing water from his water tank to put out the fire since, as he pointed out to the fire station representative, "by the time (the Clarendon unit arrives) the place would have already been destroyed".
Berry said that he was taken aback by the situation since the Government had announced the expenditure of $100 million dollars on Emancipation and Independence celebrations.
He argued that given inadequacies of essential services in the country, the Government had misplaced its priorities.
"You can't have a party tonight and no bread on the table for tomorrow. Put your house in order first," Berry argued.
"What if I was out?" he asked rhetorically, as he recalled the threatening bush fire.
"I paid 130 per cent increase in property taxes. I should be able to get basic services," he said.
Deputy Superintendent at the Manchester Fire Department Neville Bennett said that the unit assigned to the department, which he described as a "pumper", was "temporarily off action because of mechanical problems".
"We got it back the same day," he told the Observer.
Bennett said it was not unusual to turn to neighbouring parishes, Clarendon and St Elizabeth for assistance when necessary.
He explained that Manchester currently has two units -- a pumper (which carries water and is for general use) and an emergency tender (which does not carry water but is useful in cases such as road accidents and for rescue purposes).
Another pumper was undergoing repairs in Kingston, he said.
Bennett commended Berry's self-help approach. He also warned that the practice of clearing land with fire, which apparently led to the bush fire in Ingleside in July, is illegal.