Not enough PPE to use in rescues so fireman warns: ‘John Public will die’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

IN SHORT SUPPLY: A fireman wearing a SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) at the scene of a fire on
Abercromby Street, Port of Spain in 2019.
The Fire Service Association claims there are less than ten such kits in the entire service.
File Photo/Jeff Mayers


“I HAVE made up my mind, 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.”

This was the warning from acting Fire Sub Officer (FSO) Patrick Anderson Dick Jnr.

In an interview with Newsday on Wednesday, Dick said he led the crew of six firemen from the Siparia Fire Station in their response to a fire on Easter Monday in Zion Hill, Penal.

When they arrived at the burning house at 9.45 am, Dick said neighbours told them a woman and her baby who lived in the house were unaccounted for. Dick said his crew was met with a cloud of thick, black smoke.

Despite not having the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) – including breathing apparatus – one of the officers ran into the burning house to try to find mother and child. After a few minutes, this officer began calling out “in despair.”

“When you hear one of your officers calling out in utter despair and you cannot do anything, I have to go in and rescue him,” Dick said.

“It was horrible to see this young man literally dying, and you can see it on his face, but you have to save the community. It is hard.”

It was only after the officer collapsed and was taken out of the burning house, that the crew learned the woman and her baby were not in the burning house, but at a neighbour’s home.

All six officers were taken to San Fernando General Hospital, where they were treated for acute smoke inhalation, and are now on medical leave.

Dick said in future, he will not be putting the lives of his crew at risk, when they have not been provided with the proper PPE to carry out rescues.“I am not losing any one of my crew,” he vowed.He said they are all hard workers and he cares about their well-being.

“One of the officers is a young man who got married last year and is now trying to start a family. The only female on the crew works like a man, she is beautiful and she works. All of my crew are hard workers.”He said the long-term effect of fire-fighting has sent many an officer to an early grave.

“Most firemen don’t live to see 70. Most die after five years of leaving the service. Most died from cancer,” he claimed. He appealed for adequate PPE for fire officers, saying, “Just give us the basics we are asking for.”


Fire Service Association president Keone Guy confirmed his membership’s position saying several officers are now willing to walk away from their jobs after Monday’s incident in Penal.

At a press conference at the union’s head office in Barataria on Wednesday, Guy said the lack of breathing equipment and other PPE has been an ongoing and vexing issue.

“It (the breathing apparatus) is the only thing that allows an officer to safely enter a burning building to rescue people. Without it, operational abilities are critically hampered.”

MY POINT IS: Keone Guy, president of the Fire Service Association,during a press conference in San Juan on Wednesday. At left isassociation member Ancel Lemessy. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB

Guy said the service has approximately 2,000 members and at this time, while a breathing apparatus set for each member is unrealistic, the current number available is alarming.

“We need 400 breathing apparatus sets, but we probably have less than ten in circulation (throughout the service) right now.

“The importance of these PPE cannot be understated, as the fire service saw an increase in fires from 400 last year to 3,000 this year.”

Assistant secretary (South) Ancel Lemessy, who was also at the press conference, said the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared firefighting a carcinogen.

Guy said in the last year, four officers all in their 30s had died from cancer.


When contacted, Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Arnold Bristo said the procurement of 225 breathing apparatus kits was at an advanced stage.

“I reached out to the Minister of National Security and he approached the Government. He got the funding roughly eight months ago. However, because of the procurement legislation, it has to come back to the ministry to process under the new procurement guidelines,” Bristo said.

Bristo could not give an exact date when the kits will be available for firemen, and said the service plans to continue to make do with its current resources.

Bristo said depending on the size and nature of a fire, “The commanders of the incident will make the necessary call to move breathing apparatus sets from surrounding areas. It worked very recently in the fire that happened at Angostura.”

Newsday also called the Occupational Health and Safety Authority and Agency (OSHA), but got no response.

When a call was made to National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds on when the kits could be available, he said he was unable to speak and told Newsday to call him later. Subsequent calls to his cellphone on Wednesday went unanswered.

Over a two-week period in January, nine fire officers were injured owing to faulty equipment and the lack of PPE.

One officer needed emergency surgery for a fractured leg, while another suffered internal chest injuries after a mechanical failure on the Bronto Skylift. This caused the metal arm supporting the basket they were working in to collapse on itself. The incident happened while the officers were fighting a fire on Observatory Street, Port of Spain on January 18.

Two weeks earlier, another officer had to be hospitalised after being injured when a defective ladder collapsed on her hand.

Guy said the accidents were caused by poor maintenance. He said 25 fire officers have been injured so far this year.

Insufficient equipment has disadvantaged both firefighters and the public. Despite costing taxpayers $71 million when it opened in March 2020, the station in Penal has faced heavy criticism for its lack of appliances.

Opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal, in a release on March 30, said families in Penal, Barrackpore and nearby areas have lost their homes to fires because Government had failed to equip the station adequately.