US firefighters aid Jamaica in bush fire response
AT the request of the government of Jamaica, a fire fighting team from the United States Forest Service (USFS) recently visited Jamaica.
The team, which arrived on January 29 and left on February 9, assisted the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), and the Jamaica Fire Brigade in bush/wildfire management and response.
The team’s visit was sponsored by the government of the United States through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with logistical support locally from the ODPEM, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), and the Trees for Tomorrow Project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
The USFS team included four experts with specific skills in tropical wildfire management from the southeast United States.
The Jamaica Fire Brigade reported 171 bush fires in Kingston and St Andrew and 231 in St Catherine between January and March 2000.
This represents an increase of wildfires of up to three times above the normal rates.
These fires have exacerbated environmental problems related to land and soil degradation, and in the case of farm lands, food crops, fruit trees and property have been damaged. The economic cost of damage to ecosystems and natural habitats has not be quantified, but is of a growing concern.
During their stay in the island, the firefighters conducted training and exchange experiences and information on wildfire management with their Jamaican counterparts and the ODPEM.
Other public sector agencies who participated in the skills training sessions include the NRCA, the Forestry Department, the National Water Commission and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), as well as the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), all of which play major roles in watershed/hillside management and emergency response.
The firefighters also met with senior Jamaica Fire Brigade and emergency management officials to review and make recommendations on practicable improvements to the recently-drafted Fire Response Plan.
The United States Forest Service is part of the US Department of Agriculture. It is a federal agency that manages public lands in national forests and grasslands. The Forest Service is also the largest forestry research organisation in the world, and provides technical and financial assistance to State and private forestry agencies.