— as fire prevention capabilities being ignited with new infrastructure, training
THE Ministry of Home Affairs has been undertaking and implementing a number of initiatives, primarily, securing more assets, investing in training of service personnel and revamping archaic infrastructure in keeping with their commitment to the protection against, and prevention of destruction through fire.
Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn, pronounced on some of these measures during an outreach programme conducted by the Fire Advisory Board on July 28, 2021 at the Guyana Police Force Officers’ Training Centre Auditorium focused on training in relation to the Building Code, causes and prevention of electrical fires, the Fire Prevention Act and fire safety tips.
Benn explained that the Fire Service has made significant strides in recruiting and training a “large number” of new recruits, who are intended to be stationed at the new fire stations in the new towns, Lethem, Mabaruma and Mahdia.
Most noteworthy, the minister announced that the final plans for the new Central Fire Station are in the final phases. The station, currently located at Stabroek, Georgetown, will be relocated to Homestretch Avenue, Georgetown and will occupy some three and one half acres of land, consequent to the ministry recognising the shortcomings of the current location.
The relocation of the Central Fire Station has been in discussion for some years now, consequent to recognising the Stabroek Market area being radically transformed since the station was constructed in that area, namely, issues pertaining to congestion in the area and also the future development of the area.
The location was selected against the backdrop of the City’s population density and other factors said Benn. He explained, “The best place with open land to take in the number of new assets … the operating spaces needed and the fact that we have to cater for future development means we had to have land with adequate space.”
Not only will the Central Fire Station be relocated but Benn disclosed that the maintenance sections for the units will also be relocated into the same building from the West Ruimveldt, Georgetown Fire Station so that the main activities are all in one place.
“That all mean that the emergency response services, the ambulances too, will be moved to that new location. So it’s a comprehensive plan we are coming up with in relation to overall fire safety not only in the City but in the country,” Benn said.
In addition, along with the new recruits who will occupy the new fire stations, Benn also disclosed that the ministry has been securing more assets to aid the firefighting capabilities of the service; so far, some five new fire trucks have been acquired.
“I said that we got to pay attention to the care and use of these assets, because on the unit basis, they are much more expensive than any other thing which we buy in the ministry, $60 to $90 million for a new fire truck, and that we got to pay attention to their usage,” Benn said.
But not only is the personnel being trained and infrastructure and support equipment being developed, but Benn also disclosed that President, Dr Irfaan Ali has mandated him to re-establish the fire mains and hydrants in the City and in the new housing areas.
“There was always the debate on whether the responsibility was with Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) or with the fire service … we’ve now taken the position that fire service will pay attention to the hydrants, the restoration but the mains will have to come from GWI,” he said.
All of the major developments contemplated are against the backdrop of the orthodox methods of fire-fighting in Guyana. Benn urged that businesses and even homeowners take it upon themselves to educate themselves on fire safety and prevention and equip their premises with firefighting devices such as smoke detectors and sprinklers.
HAS TO BE CAPABLE
“The fire service has to be capable, aware, trained and engage in relation to this new situation. The normal continuing issues and normal fighting fires we got to be better at it, we got to be more skilled, we got to be more confident, we got to be more courageous,” Benn said.
Budget 2021 saw some $1.9 billion earmarked to enhance the capacity of the Fire Service. This accounts for the relocation of the Central Fire Station, the construction of a new fire station at Eccles, East Bank Demerara, and the purchase of six water tenders and two ambulances.
The minister thanked the Fire Advisory Board for initiating the outreach scheme which he opines will assist to mitigate the “deficit” which exists in relation to national fire awareness. He expressed that since the reconstitution of the board, the fire service has begun moving in an incremental direction.
Benn explained that since he assumed leadership of the Home Affairs Ministry, he has experienced certain “grievances” in relation to ensuring the service is equipped with proper mobile and fixed assets to fight fires; fire prevent personnel utilising training effectively; that fires are fought in an appropriate manner and that more emphasis placed on public awareness and engagement.
“The important thing is that in our discussion here is to have more information out there, more measures taken, more appreciation of the reasons why we want to prevent fires, to prevent the loss of life, property, jobs and that we keep building new and we build on what we already have,” he said.
He explained that given the historical context of the City of Georgetown, and Guyana at large, where most houses are built using flammable material, persons are at risk of losing their livelihoods in the blink of an eye, therefore the outreach, aimed at fire prevention through enhancing public awareness, is timely and effective.
Benn reflected on major fires which destroyed large sections of Georgetown, and other places in the 1940s and 1960s which, he noted, reversed major developmental strides the country had made and negatively impacted the economy, among other things.