Fire Brigade Shortfall

Fire service in dire need of training facility

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

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Close to 150 years since being established, the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) still does not have a training facility of its own, a deficiency which the leadership of the service is hoping will change soon and put it on par with the police and the army.

Commissioner of the JFB Stewart Beckford says this would not only provide a dedicated space to train recruits, but also enable large-scale simulation exercises for experienced firefighters.

He raised the issue during yesterday's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange with the leadership of the brigade. One glaring example of the need for a dedicated training facility is urban rescue training, which is critical to ensuring that the fire service is ready for mass disaster events.

Commissioner Beckford pointed to the multiple tremors which have affected the Caribbean in recent months, the most serious of which struck near Trinidad last December. “Should we have a repeat of that or have something similar in Jamaica, we would be hard-pressed to effectively conduct search and rescue because the capacity is just not there,” he stated.

The fire chief explained that the brigade does have the requisite expertise in-house, but it does not have the capacity to handle a large-scale event. “Any incident of a large magnitude will overwhelm us easily. If you have a collapsed high-rise building — hotel or apartment — then we will be able to work effectively, but if it's on a wider scale it will pose a challenge to us. So we need to do urban search and rescue training… that's not cheap. We are planning to do some of that but I don't know how many persons will be able to because of the limited funds that we have now to do training,” he said.

The JFB has acquired 43 acres of land at Twickenham Park in St Catherine, in the vicinity of the National Police College of Jamaica, but to date there are no firm plans on the table for development. According to the commissioner, it will cost an estimated $2 billion to build out the facility.

He acknowledged that building a training school, inclusive of barracks, is an expensive undertaking. “But we were willing to do it on a phased basis, so we would have identified that there were some buildings on the property that were structurally sound. The idea was to refurbish those and to secure the area and to start some training out there. Unfortunately, that has not happened as fast as we would have wanted. We have done some work in terms of the erection of a fence to secure the location, but we haven't had the funds to start the refurbishing of those buildings,” he said.

The fire brigade commissioner noted that security is of grave concern and forms part of the delay in moving on the project.

He also highlighted that there is currently no institution locally that offers training to firefighters, outside of general academic programmes. This is yet another cost to the brigade as it is forced to look overseas for courses, or to bring experts to the island to administer programmes.

“The disadvantage with bringing persons here is that we don't have a dedicated facility here for them to come and conduct the training. The disadvantage in taking persons overseas is that it's expensive — you have to pay for the course, accommodation, and air fare. All of these are issues that we have been grappling with for many years,” he stated.

In the meantime, it is costing the JFB millions to rent various areas to carry out training activities, such as the approximately $28 million it will have to spend on training activities — inclusive of rented facilities — for 110 recruits to start on March 3. The commissioner pointed out that the cost would be significantly less if the JFB had its own dedicated training facility.

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