San Juan fire victim sits CXC exam

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Mac Newton erects a tent in the yard of a San Juan house that was destroyed by fire on Thursday. – Faith Ayoung

Despite losing her home and all her belongings in a fire just the day before, a 17-year-old student sat her first Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exam on Friday.

The teen, who did not wish to be identified, said while she felt some anxiety, she remained confident that she did well.

“I had my English paper two this morning. I was a little scared and I was bothered by everything, but my exams take priority. I feel confident. Despite the devastation surrounding me, I am committed to my studies.”

Her notebooks, textbooks, secondary-based assessments and other school supplies were lost in the fire.

On Thursday at about 11 am, a fire on Saddle Road, San Juan, destroyed the building where four families lived. Four puppies died in the blaze.

Three families said they lost everything, while one ground floor apartment had minimal damage.

The teen’s mother said the school’s vice principal has been very accommodating and empathetic to the situation.

“They said it was okay for her to sit her exams in just jeans and a t-shirt.”

The teen said she wants to be a doctor.

Her mother said her daughter always loved helping people and she was proud of her daughter’s determination.

“In spite of everything happening, she’s holding her chin up.”

The puppies’ owner told Newsday her lone surviving adult dog was okay.

She said the dog was found on Thursday night at the back of the house and had received minor burns.

“When the fire was going on, the mother dog ran back into the fire to save the puppies. We couldn’t get her out.

“When everything was over, we found her to the back of the property. She was covered in ash and she had some burns about her body but she’s okay.”

On Friday, residents described the Fire Service’s response to the tragedy as poor. Some residents asked why taxpayers’ dollars were not being used to adequately equip the fire service.

CAUSE UNKNOWN: Fire officers at the Moses Avenue, San Juan house that was destroyed by fire on Thursday. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined. – Faith Ayoung

“One of the trucks showed up without water. Nearly four fire trucks came and they couldn’t put it out. The hose was leaking nonstop, it burst all over,” one upset resident said.

“This is licks for taxpayers’ money. They don’t even have the proper equipment. One officer had to use a bolt cutter to burst down a door. Where is our money going?” another added.

Keone Guy, president of the Fire Service Association, said on Thursday morning, the Morvant fire station was the first to arrive, with a truck equipped with 1,000 litres of water.

He explained a suitable tender carries between 4,500 and 10,000 litres of water.

Another resident claimed that officers changed shifts while battling the blaze.

“They changing shifts while the fire going on. Some of them sitting down not even looking interested in what they doing because they waiting on the next set of officers to come,” one upset resident said.

Deputy chief fire officer Andy Hutchinson denied these claims on Thursday night. Newsday sent messages to Hutchinson earlier in the day and he responded at 9:05 pm via Whatsapp.

He said, “That is false information. There was no shift change.

“Change of watch/shift is at 9 am and 6 pm, respectively. That call was received just after 11 am this morning (Thursday),” he added.

More fire trucks from the San Juan and Tunapuna stations arrived shortly after.

When contacted for comment on Friday, divisional fire officer and fire services public relations officer Garth Jacob said the fire caused $800,000 in damage.

Jacob said the fire prevention unit was investigating to determine the cause of the fire.

When Newsday went to the house on Friday, its once-white walls were stained black. On the right side of the building, the entire wall of the upstairs apartment had crumbled, leaving a gaping hole.

The galvanised roof also collapsed.

Recalling the previous day’s events, one neighbour described it as hell.

“It felt like we were literally walking through hell. The fire tore through everything. It was hot, the smoke was suffocating us.”

Gesturing to her burnt plants, the neighbour said the fire almost spread to her home as the flames grew.

“We had to disconnect some clotheslines that were connected to their fence. The plants we have on the balcony of the apartment caught fire and we had to throw water to out it and move it out the way.”

Looking on at the fire on Thursday, although neighbours were happy no human lives were lost, they lamented the loss of the tenants’ belongings, saying it could take a serious toll on someone’s mental health.

On April 5, Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal called on Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds to properly equip firefighters after the Fire Service Association complained of a shortage of the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to do their jobs safely.

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.

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.'”

On March 21, Ryan Rambhajan and his family lost their Otaheite home in a fire that consumed the wooden and concrete structure.

On February 4, Joel Smith and his eight-year-old son’s two-storey New Grant home was burnt to the ground before Princes Town fire officers arrived.