Moonilal calls on Hinds to ‘equip fire service now’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A firefighter with self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) emerge from a building on Independence Square after containing a fire in 2020. FILE PHOTO/JEFF MAYERS –

OROPOUCHE East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal is calling on National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds to properly equip firefighters, days after their union complained of a shortage of the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to do their jobs safely.

In a statement sent on Friday, the UNC MP claimed officers were in need of essential firefighting equipment saying, “The fire service has never been more ill-equipped.”

At a media conference on Wednesday, president of the Fire Service Association Keone Guy said the lack of proper equipment available to firefighters was alarming.

“We need 400 breathing apparatus sets, but we probably have less than ten in circulation right now,” Guy said. “The importance of this PPE cannot be understated, as the fire service saw an increase in fires from 400 last year, to 3,000 this year.”

He later added, “The last time we could safely say we had enough equipment was when TT hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2009.”

On Wednesday, Guy also noted a two-week period in January during which nine officers were injured in the line of duty owing to faulty equipment and a lack of PPE.

In one instance, two officers were flung from a skylift after one of its metal arms collapsed because of a mechanical failure. That resulted in one officer needing emergency surgery after fracturing a leg and another suffered chest injuries.

The Penal Fire Station, which was opened in March 2020, has also faced public criticism for an alleged shortage of safety gear, despite costing $71 million.

Also on Wednesday, Siparia Fire Station acting fire sub officer (FSO) Patrick Dick told Newsday he was no longer willing to risk the lives of his officers while equipment shortages persisted.

“I have made up my mind,” he said. “The next fire call I go on and we are once more put into a position where we do not have these necessary instruments, John Public is going to die.”

Dick said the issue had reared its head as he led a crew of six firefighters in responding to a fire in Penal on Easter Monday.

He said despite not having the proper breathing apparatus, one of the officers ran into the burning house to try to find a mother and her child who were believed to be inside.

That officer had to be rescued a few minutes later after he collapsed in the building.

The crew later learned the mother and her child were not inside at the time.

Dick said all six firefighters were later taken to hospital and treated for acute smoke inhalation and are on medical leave.

He later appealed for adequate PPE for fire officers: “Just provide us with the basics we need. We’re not asking for much.”

On Friday, Moonilal called for a reallocation of funds from “non-essential measures” such as “unnecessary international travel” by government officials, which he said could be allocated to much-needed safety equipment.

He also questioned the fire service’s readiness to tackle emergencies.

“It is dangerously scandalous that the fire services have ten working breathing apparatus (BA) when they should have over 300!”What is the status and readiness of the fire services?”Some fire trucks are over 20 years old and are in need of repairs.”

Moonilal ended by saying citizens “are perishing in major blazes” while the Minister of National Security “continues to preside over an inadequate fire service whose only response is that ‘equipment will arrive soon.’”