'I just want to breathe'


'I just want to breathe'

Hanover senior citizen calls for review of Country Fires Act

Observer writer

Thursday, February 18, 2021

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LUCEA, Hanover— A resident of Hopewell phase two housing scheme in Hanover who currently suffers from a chronic asthma condition, which he claims is as a result of the persistent bush fires in his community, has made an impassioned plea for the revision of the Country Fires Act.

Lancelot Murray made the call during last Thursday's sitting of the Hanover Municipal Corporation's monthly general meeting as he requested the corporation's assistance in bringing the matter to the attention of the Parliament.

Murray said the frequent setting of fires for various reasons, including the clearing of land, is posing a threat to his life, claiming that the smoke from the fires is attempting to “commit murder.”

“I call for the repeal of this (Country Fires Act). I just want to breathe. I just want to breathe and you all can help. What I have realised folk, all of the agencies that I have gone to, individually, cannot act, but collectively [you all can],” Murray told the meeting.

Murray, who said that at one point he had to leave his house at around 2:00 in the morning because of smoke emitting from a fire left overnight by a neighbour, added that “I am pleading with you. I am begging on bending knees for help. I can't live in my home.”

The senior citizens stressed that people who are not able to help themselves, such as children, are “suffering,” adding that several people are afraid to come forward.

“Not because I am weak, I am sensitised to the situation and the suffering. It must stop. It must stop.”

Murray, who lives approximately 15 minutes from the nearest hospital, told the Jamaica Observer West, following his presentation, that not being able to breathe can lead to a painful and slow death.

“I would rather die from a bullet to the head than to die from not being able to breathe as a result of smoke inhalation. We all breathe subconsciously and everything is alright, but if you are not able to breathe, in a matter of minutes you suffer from cardiac arrest, your heart stops,” expressed Murray.

During the meeting he noted that the citizens' association had brought in the fire department and the police to sensitise the citizens about fire hazards, but thefires continue.

He argued that theCountry Fires Act does not deter people from breaching the regulations.

“The 1942 Country Fires Act was last amended on January 1, 1995 to reflect an increase in the fine for breaches of the Act from $40 to a maximum of $2,000. Imprisonment can also be imposed with or without hard labour, not exceeding three months.”

Under the Act too, individuals who intend to set fire to trash on any land must give seven days' prior notice to the officer or sub-officer in charge of the nearest police station and the occupiers of all adjoining lands within a half-mile radius.

Besides, unattended night fires between the hours of 6:00 pm and 6:00 am are deemed illegal.

Murray also urged the corporation to comymence the process of bringing a Bill before Parliament for legislative attention.

Hanover Municipal Corporation Chairman Sheridan Samuels pledged that the corporation “will do all it can” to have the matter addressed, as he asked chief executive officer of the corporation, David Gardner, for his guidance on the way forward.

Gardner suggested that a motion should be taken, then a resolution sent to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.

“The matter based on what Mr Murray has indicated is one that requires some form of legislative change. From the point of view of the operation, the matter has been presented at our local board of health. If the members are so obliged, I would recommend that a motion be taken at the appropriate time and then a resolution be done accordingly, and it be sent to our ministry —the fire department falls under our ministry — and then it would be within their ambit to take the necessary action in terms of taking it to the parliamentary level, if they so feel it fit,” he argued.

Following the recommendation, the seven councillors in attendance at the meeting voted in favour of supporting the move.

“I realise that you have really been affected by what is happening in terms of fire. So, we will take an approach to help you,” Samuels later told Murray.

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