Law posing challenges to Fire Brigade

Monday Exchange

Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

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SHORTCOMINGS in the Fire Brigade Act are posing challenges to the country's firefighting strategy, according to Jamaica Fire Brigade Commissioner Stewart Beckford.

Beckford, who was speaking at yesterday's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange held at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue office in Kingston, made the observation while addressing a number of issues, including water companies using fire hydrants as a source for the commodity which they, in turn, sell to consumers.

With sections of the island currently experiencing water shortage, the Observer spotted several private water trucks being filled from hydrants.

Yesterday, Beckford noted that while this should not be taking place, the act is not punishable by law.

“Private water suppliers are not to access these hydrants because that's trespassing on the property of the brigade. But, the unfortunate thing is that we don't have anything in our legislation that can cause us to bring any kind of action in the courts against these persons when they do that, and that's one of the weaknesses that we currently face as an organisation as it relates to our legislative framework,” Beckford noted.

The Fire Brigade Act, which was passed in 1993, is limited in its scope, Beckford said, arguing that nothing has been done in terms of amendments to the regulations since that time.

“This is something that we are actively discussing now, management and the board, along with the [local government] ministry, as to how we can amend the Fire Brigade Act to reflect today's reality. We carry out some functions as it relates to fire prevention, but the necessary legislative frameworks to support that in terms of regulation are absent,” the fire chief said.

He mentioned, for example, that the Fire Brigade Act stipulates in Section 22 that the brigade has the responsibility to inspect what is referred to as specified buildings which include cinemas, theatres, schools, and hospitals. However, Beckford said as it relates to private hospitals and private homes, unless it's an apartment complex of certain floor levels, the brigade is not allowed to go in and carry out inspection because the Act does not provide for that.

“We believe that is a weakness because most of the fires that we now have are occurring in residential homes. Yet we are constrained in what we can do as it relates to that,” he said.

He also suggested that while the brigade conducts frequent fire prevention campaigns by way of electronic and print media to educate and engage the public, more could be done if a legislative framework is in place to back the activities firefighters would want to carry out.

The only mention of amendments to the Act came in Governor General Sir Patrick Allen's 2018 Throne Speech which said amendments would be made to abolish the board of the Jamaica Fire Brigade and transfer the functions of the board to the ministry.

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