Out-of-service vehicles marring Jamaica Fire Brigade’s response to fires
The Jamaica Fire Brigade’s (JFB) out-of-commission fire and emergency vehicles continue to constrain its ability to effectively respond to fires over the last five years, a performance audit conducted by the Auditor General’s Department has revealed.
This is despite an increase in the size of its fleet of fire and emergency vehicles.
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, in the report, which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, noted that as of February 2023, JFB’s non-operational vehicles accounted for 41 (39 per cent) of the fleet of 105 fire and emergency vehicles.
“JFB’s records showed that the fire and emergency vehicles were out of service due mainly to engine and transmission failure; leaking water tanks; mechanical issues, and accidents. Further, JFB’s vehicle servicing schedules for 2017-2018 to 2021-2022 showed that vehicles were being serviced between two months and two years after the required service dates…and for several vehicles, there were no servicing times recorded,” she said.
Further, the document said JFB indicated that it was unable to adhere to maintenance schedules for some vehicles due to factors such as inadequate funding, removal of vehicles with major mechanical defects from the active fleet to be serviced; and the recommended decommissioning of some vehicles based on the frequency of breakdowns and the age of vehicles.
“However, it cannot be discounted that prolonged delays in servicing vehicles would exacerbate some mechanical problems, thereby contributing to an increase in the number of ‘out-of-commission’ vehicles,” Monroe Ellis said.
She said that despite increasing its fleet of fire vehicles, JFB’s vehicle complement was sub-optimal based on an increase in out-of-commission fire and emergency vehicles.
The Auditor General noted that the Department’s 2014 audit report revealed that 36 per cent of JFB’s fleet of emergency vehicles was out of service. She said at that date, JFB’s fleet of emergency vehicles totalled 75, of which 31 (41 per cent) were out of commission/service.
“To date, JFB fleet of fire and emergency vehicles increased by 30 (40 per cent) and its out-of-commission/service vehicles also increased from 31 to 41 (32 per cent),” she said.
The report noted as well that the JFB investigated less than one per cent (210) of the reported 44,764 fires over the five-year review period.
“JFB indicated that fires were selected for investigation based on the criteria established in its Fire Investigation handbook although our review of the handbook showed no evidence of an established criteria. Nonetheless, the criteria outlined in JFB Fire investigation policy developed in May 2022, requires the investigation of fires that caused death or serious injury, structural fires, fires believed to be incendiary in nature, explosions, any unique or complex situation involving a suspicious or consequential fire, wildland or bush fires of a predetermined magnitude, among other criteria,” Monroe Ellis said.
Additionally, the Auditor General revealed in the report that the JFB was not adequately managing its fire prevention activities to minimise injuries, loss of lives and damage to properties.
Monroe Ellis said she commissioned this audit to determine the progress made to date by JFB in improving its operations and systems of internal controls as well as the implementation of her 2014 recommendations.
“I found that JFB has made significant improvements in its operations and partially implemented three of the four 2014 recommendations. In 2014, we conducted a performance audit of the JFB which assessed the effectiveness and efficiency of JFB’s fire prevention; firefighting; rescue and emergency medical services, as well as its fire regulation and enforcement mechanisms. The audit found that the high incidence of out-of-service emergency vehicles affected JFB’s ability to carry out its firefighting activities, emergency medical care and rescue services.
Monroe Ellis pointed out that the JFB fully implemented six of 15 recommendations from its latest National Fire and Rescue Cover (2019) aimed at improving JFB’s effectiveness in fighting fires and responding to emergencies.
She noted, however, that while the JFB has stepped up building inspections between 2017-2018 to 2021-2022, follow-up inspections for non-conformities have been minimal, with only 49 (10 per cent) follow-ups from a sample of 500 buildings that were identified with breaches.
“I, therefore, urge the JFB to implement the recommendations contained in this report, while seeking to address the gaps that are outstanding,” she said.
Monroe Ellis further advised that the JFB should seek to implement strategies to improve the timeliness of servicing its vehicles.
“JFB should also ensure strict adherence to its building inspection and fire investigation policy to strengthen its fire prevention activities, as well as submit all outstanding annual reports and financial statements to its portfolio Minister for tabling in the Houses of Parliament to enable the Government’s oversight responsibilities,” she said.