With major oil and gas assets surrounding the Borough of Point Fortin, fire officers believe that if a major disaster occurs, they will not be able to adequately respond given their lack of resources.
Worried for themselves and the safety of the people under their watch, the officers joined with their Fire Services Association in a march from the defunct Point Fortin Fire Station along the Southern Main Road to the dilapidated bungalow in Clifton Hill where they have been housed since 2017.
Members of the Movement for Social Justice and the public joined the placard parade as they believe their lives are also at risk. And with limited operations at the Heritage Petroleum Company’s marine base (Formally Trinmar), they said there is no support from the fire tenders that assisted fire officers in recent times. The station covers not only Point Fortin, but the communities of Chatham, Cedros and La Brea.
Association president Leo Ramkissoon is demanding that the Government begin the construction of a new fire station. The old fire station, which is over 50 years old, became infested with termites and has rotten boards among other health and safety hazards.
In 2016, former national security minister Edmund Dillon, who is the MP for Point Fortin, promised that a new fire station would have begun in 2017 at a cost of $11 million.
But in 2017, the conditions worsened and the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) shut down the building, deeming it unsafe. The officers were moved to an old bungalow from the Texaco Oil Company days, which they said was also unsafe. Ramkissoon said they will soon seek the OSHA’s assistance in determining the safety of the building as there were mould infestation and faulty electrical fittings among other problems that the officers were unwilling to tolerate. He said the station was also without a properly functioning fire appliance.
“We are saying that given what is happening with the fire station having been closed, given that a properly working appliance has not been assigned to the current station, the officers here in Point Fortin and the community is being placed at risk. They are at risk because they are not being afforded the best emergency response and protection that the fire service can offer,” Ramkissoon said.
He recalled the devastation Haiti suffered in 2010 from a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, which resulted in an estimated 300,000 deaths and 300,000 injuries. With earthquakes occurring frequently around T&T, Ramkissoon said the government needs to ensure emergency responders are fully equipped should a disaster occur. He said it was not Point Fortin alone suffering as the Roxborough Fire Station was a hazard.
The Lady Hailes Fire Station in San Fernando was closed in 2013 and the building was eventually refurbished and handed over to the Municipal Police, who are yet to occupy the facility. A new fire station was to be built a kilometre away and work was scheduled to begin in 2015, however, nothing was started. Ramkissoon added that while Mayaro has a fairly new station, the staff is skeletal. He said the service started with a manpower of 2000 and today it is down to 1600.
He said the Government continues to spend money on other projects and agencies, while the fire service continues to deteriorate.
National Security Minister Stuart Young was sent messages to comment on the issue, however, there was no response.