Firefighter Sergeant Leo Bennett, who took his one-man protest to the top of the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew on Tuesday morning, says he has a list of demands that need urgent attention.
Bennett is protesting what he says is the ill-treatment of his colleagues whose welfare is being ignored.
The firefighter who, took extreme measures to have his voice heard, confirmed that he, along with six other members of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, were suspended after a protest last May which highlighted the same issues he has brought forth today.
READ: PHOTOS: Firefighters stage protest outside Labour Ministry
“I am here to highlight the poor treatment of firefighters. Our welfare issues are not being looked at. We have never asked the government for a cent more, we have never pressured any government— whether this government or any other government— on money but [there are] a whole heap of other issues which affect us — our safety, our health; mental and physical,” Bennett told OBSERVER ONLINE.
Among the demands Bennett wants met are:
1. “The six members, who are some of the finest and best firefighters, return them forthwith to their duties because the public is paying them and the money is going down the drain so the public is not receiving any service for the money being paid out for almost a year.
2. Provide proper welfare [for the] issues— psychological, gears-wise. We are an entity in which we depend on our physical ability because if anyone were to fall in a hole or [there is a] wreckage our physical dexterity is needed and there is not one facility or gym in the KSA (Kingston and St Andrew) region where a firefighter can train [and] become a better member to serve the public.
3. We are asking the government and the management, the public services commission, National Integrity Action (NIA) and other bodies to look at the inefficiencies within the brigade. Along the Hagley Park corridor, for almost three years, the China Harbour construction company would have put in place some hydrants - and up to today there is not one hydrant to which the Jamaica Fire Brigade can't connect and they are being vandalised.”
According to Bennett, firefighters are “at the station every day of our working lives unless we are given some kind of leave; you don’t get days off. In other jurisdictions like Barbados, the United States, England, anywhere else you take it, firefighters work a different system where they can have a proper work/life balance. It is not so with the Jamaica Fire Brigade.”
When asked why he is the only firefighter protesting, he told OBSERVER ONLINE that the other members of the Jamaica Fire Brigade have been threatened against taking any kind of protest action. And while he has been suspended for almost a year, he says other firefighters cannot afford to lose their earnings.
Bennett also blasted the management of the Fire Brigade, stating that they were “very, very inefficient” and that “Jamaica public is not getting value for their money”.
Bennett, who confirmed that he has an impending court date, said that he does not know if his actions today will affect the court proceedings.
The lonesome protestor said he is focused on protecting the family members of the firefighters who are often exposed to harmful materials which are brought home due to a lack of proper cleaning facilities at the fire stations.
“I must protect the children of my fellow firefighters, I must protect the wives of my fellow firefighters. When we go to fires and carcinogenic materials get on the tunic and we must take it home to wash it in the machine because the brigade don’t provide a facility to clean those safety gears at the station, the family members of the firefighters are exposed to those kinds of residues,” Bennett explained.
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