The Newsletter of the Jamaica Fire Brigade
Probe ordered into Brigade’s activities
Following a large fire at the Portmore Mall shopping complex in St. Catherine, The Minister of Local Government and Community Development with portfolio responsibility for Jamaica Fire Brigade ordered a Review Board to examine the Brigade’s response to the incident.
The fire which started early on the morning of Tuesday July 2nd 2001,destroyd Block ‘B’ of the complex (30,720ft2 floor space)which housed thirty-seven (37)shops. JFB’s response totalled six fire appliances and fifty-four firefighters in an eight hour operation.
The commission’s members were Mr. Julian Templar, Chief Executive Officer National Safety Limited, Superintendent Errol Mowat - St. James Division of the Brigade, and Mr Roderick Heaven, A business man.
Deputy Commissioner retires
After over forty years service with the Fire Brigade, Deputy Commissioner in charge of Administration Rudolph Thomas proceeded on 184 days pre-retirement leave on 1st August 2001. Mr. Thomas joined the Kingston & St. Andrew Fire Brigade on 31st January 1961 straight out of school. He was actually in khaki when he did the entry test. Over the years he advanced with relative ease through the ranks, never skipping a rank. Mr. Thomas admitted to Firebreak that the hardest rank to reach was to get his first promotion to lance corporal.
When the Jamaica Fire Brigade finally became a reality Mr. Thomas was an Assistant Commissioner and had worked in various sections of the Brigade including Fire Prevention, Training, Operations, and as Commissioner’s Staff Officer.
Firebreak asked about the changes he had observed over the years. He said they were numerous, but could be summarised into changes in equipment and techniques and changes in health and safety requirements. One change that Mr. Thomas remarked on negatively was the loss of unity and team spirit among the members which would ultimately affected their professionalism and performance.
For himself, Mr. Thomas said there were no regrets and he would retain fond memories. We wish him all the best in his new ventures.
Fun Day abandoned!
One of the main events on the Brigade’s annual calender of activities, the National Fun Day, was this year abandoned due to lack of members’ support and poor divisional preparedness. Reports are that the predominantly sports filled day has lost its appeal for the majority of members and divisions had difficulties fielding teams to compete in playoffs. Some members immediately stepped into the void with an After-work Jam at the Waterford Fire Station on Friday 27 July 2001.
Handing over Ceremony
Wednesday 15 August 2001 had media attention focussed on activities at York Park Fire Station with the staging of the official handing over ceremony for fire appliances from Japan.
The welcome and opening remarks were made by Commissioner Benson, after which the Chairman of the Jamaica Fire Brigade Board Mr. D. T. Brown made a brief statement.
His Excellency Isao Otsuka Ambassador of Japan to Jamaica then addressed the gathering and presented the keys of the appliances.
In his response Minister of Local Government and Community Development the Honourable Arnold Bertram M.P. thanked the government of Japan and said that there would be continued dialogue with Japan on the future development of the Brigade.
The Commissioning Prayer was offered by Senior Deputy Superintendent R. B. Johnson. Area Officer Assistant Commissioner H. Hall, other senior officers and members of staff were also in attendance.
Gift for St. Ann Division
The St. Ann Division recently received a gift of a 19" colour television from Courts Jamaica Limited. This was a welcome gift at a time when members of the division were working hard to improve their working relationship. To enhance these relationships they recently held a highly successful Interactive Day with officers competing against sub-officers and other members in a number of events.
Acting Divisional Head Assistant Superintendent Lawrence also arranged a First Aid Refresher Course as a proactive step in view of the increasing number of traffic accidents the division as been attending.
St. Ann Division is vibrant and is now proposing the formation of a Jamaica Fire Brigade Co-op Credit Union. We look forward to members response.
Following the testing and interviews of applicants for the Emergency Medical Service, twelve persons were trained at the UWI Department of Social an Preventative Medicine. The course ran between 16 -23 August and was directed by Dr. Winsome Segree. Another 16 persons are standing by to be trained.
Between 7 and 23 August 2001, the Training Department conducted an Instructor Training Course at the G. C. Foster College of Physical Education & Sports. There were sixteen participants from various divisions on the course, nine of whom will be assigned to the Training Department for the training of Recruit Intake #8 in September.
The training of recruit Intake #8 will begin at G.C. Foster College early in September 2001.
The complement of the intake will comprise sixty persons, the majority of whom have been on the files of the Brigade’s Personnel Department for some time.
Those recruits who successfully complete the twelve week course will be posted to stations in the KSA, St. James and Westmoreland Divisions.
Dilapidated Stations affecting morale
Fire Stations were in the news again on Saturday 28 July when local television stations showed video footage of the ramshackle Old Harbour Fire Station.
The station is badly infested with termites, wood-rot, and has poor drainage. What was ironic in the footage shown was that the station boasted the latest in ceramic floor tiles under a ceiling that threatened collapse at any moment. The tiles were apparently part of a refurbishing exercise done without a thorough examination of the building.
Another eyesore and health risk is the building that houses the Port Maria Fire Station. Like a forlorn damsel clad in the cast off clothing from another era, the building stands in abject misery along the main road to Oracabessa and the rest of the north course resort areas.
Dank and rotting, these are only two examples of the poorly kept stations in which members have to work, clear testament to the absence of a structured, ongoing building maintenance programme.
Firefighters who work in these and similar stations cannot help being de-motivated and will display higher degrees of stress and stress related illnesses. Management needs to move speedily to identify the funds to rectify these unhealthy conditions.
Preparations for Fire Brigade Week
Plans for Fire Brigade Week celebrated in October each year have now swung into high gear. The theme this year is “Fire costs ....no room for error”. The week will be observed from Sunday October 21 to Saturday October 27 and will commence with a church service in Area III at the Power of Faith Tabernacle, Portmore, St Catherine in which Area I will participate. Similar services are to be organized in Port Antonio (Area II) and Black River (Area IV). During the week members of the public including schools and community groups will be invited too view demonstrations, exhibitions, listen to lectures and be issued with fire safety brochures. The week will be highlighted in the electronic and print media, and will culminate with the ‘Fire Safety Awareness Week Culmination Ball’ at Caribbean Showplace, Ironshore, Montego Bay.
Liaison With ODPEM
Assistance was provided by the Brigade to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management in conducting their Community Disaster Management Strengthening Project during the month of August.
The project which is funded by the Disaster Preparedness Arm of the European Community - DIPECHO, targeted the communities of Mavis Bank/Gordon Town, August Town, and Rockfort/Harbour View. Training was conducted in hazard mapping, disaster management and search and rescue. A similar project was conducted in the Rio Grande Valley of Portland in 1999.
Assistant Superintendent V. Lawrence and Lance Corporal A. Hacker provided hands on training in rescue techniques.
Command at major incidents
Command is difficult under any circumstances, but the myriad tasks and decisions required of the incident commander are increased tremendously at major incidents. No officer can remember all of them and will depend on prompts from the incident itself and the personnel attending. Some of these tasks will be handled by the officer personally while others will be delegated to subordinates.
Despite the wide range of tasks facing the officer, they may be grouped into seven (7) key command functions. These are:
Crew safety and Welfare
Post incident considerations
The emphasis given to each of these functions will vary according to the rank of the officer and the nature of the incident.
Usually the most difficult incidents to command are those that cover a large geographical area, those that are of long duration, those where resources are inadequate or inappropriate and those that are very dynamic and complex. In subsequent issues of Firebreak we will review these main command functions in an attempt to provide an insight for all members of the command process for major incidents.
When the Bells Tolled
The news travelled like wildfire throughout the country. In a matter of minutes telephones rang and lights started coming on in bedrooms and dormitories as the unofficial grapevine of the Brigade swung into operation. These lights would burn until daylight. Sleepy spouses enquired of their mates what was the problem and received the shattering news - a firefighter was down, possibly dead in a fire going at Carib Cinema.
I received my call at approximately 0133 hours, some twenty minutes after the distress call went out, and about one hour after the initial response to the incident. My friend was on duty at Divisional Headquarters K.S.A. Division and the distress was apparent in his voice as he gave me the limited information he had. Was it an explosion or a building collapse? Was a search team committed? Were other persons missing or injured? My friend was unable to answer these questions positively and we rang off, with the hope that our comrade would be rescued quickly. During the conversation I had instinctively written down the time and the sketchy information he had and I now went into a flurry of activity, asking the watch-room at York Park for an update, turning on my portable radio, dressing hurriedly and then abruptly I stopped, and sat down. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do. Other trained persons were already at the scene and taking all the appropriate actions. I was not helping by tying up phone lines or radio frequencies. My friend was staying at his assigned post and I decided to follow his example, wait and pray.
The wait proved to be in vain. At 0300 hours on Saturday 21 September 1996 the search teams found the remains of Corporal Lambert Blackwood. Over the next few days newspapers would carry banner headlines, Death of a hero and Carib goes up in Flames among others.
I first met Lambert in August 1990 when he reported for training at the Brigade’s Training School at G. C. Foster College. I was a Lance Corporal at the time, and it took me a while to realize that the ever present glint of humour an his eyes, or the ever ready smile were not signs of cheekiness, but purely a reflection of the cheerful personality that he was. By the time his graduation came a few weeks later (October 12 1990) we had become friends, or at least as close as an instructor and his charges can become. A bond of mutual respect had been formed.
Over the next few years, whenever we met there would always be some repartee as we discussed sports and other topical subjects, with each of us trying to outdo the other. A typical meeting would start with “Corporal (meaning me), have you heard the one about the man who....” and after the punch line was delivered, there would be gales of laughter from those within earshot and I would attempt to top his joke. In his capacity as carpenter/ joiner he sometimes had to visit the office where I worked, and he was always respectful to his supervisors and peers. While he carried out the necessary repairs or installations we would be regaled with a stream of anecdotes and one liners.
Lambert had his serious side as well and he was actively pursuing training courses to further qualify himself in his speciality. In informal discussions with him I learned that he was seriously concerned with putting the necessary savings and other fundamentals in place before starting a family.
I was happy for him when I heard that he had been promoted to Corporal in 1995. I had been promoted as well and the greetings now changed to a snappy salute followed by “Morning Super”. “Good morning Corporal”. “Have you heard this one Super.....?” and the latest joke would be told.
It has been a while since Corporal Blackwood responded to the bells. Sometimes the questions are still asked about how he died. Was it human error, incorrect procedures, or professional ineptitude? Sadly the answer is a painful but simpler truth. In any high risk situation there will be casualties and when the situation has the awesome destructive potential of a raging inferno (such as Carib Fire) the risks are multiplied, and sometimes we fall in the line of duty. There is no blame, only regret.
We miss you my friend, and speak your name often. Sometimes with humour, most times with sadness. We don’t know how or when we will meet again but one thing we are sure of, none of us will forget you or the day the bells tolled.
Corporal Blackwood was the second firefighter in Jamaica’s fire fighting history to die while on operational duties.
The Fredrick Swaby Memorial Trophy Cricket Match was played at the Maxfield Park Children’s Home on Friday 27th July 2001.
The match is an annual event in the KSA Division, and this year saw the Superintendent’s Eleven pitted against the President’s Eleven in a 30 overs game.
The Superintendents Eleven won by 77 runs after the Presidents Eleven was bowled out after 19 overs for 52 runs. Top scorer was P. Gringle of Supts. Eleven with 33 runs, while top wicket taker was O. Pinnock also of Supts Eleven with figures of 6 for 19 runs.
The Fire Boyz put up an outstanding performance in a recent domino match against E.O.J as part of their Kingston & St. Andrew Parish Library Domino Competition. The Boyz showed guts and determination which allowed them to win by 35 points. Their performance silenced those critics who felt they were out of their league. Other games scheduled include Premix Company and Caribbean Cement Company.
Congratulations are in order for your new refreshing , entertaining, and informative publication Firebreak.
A vast number of the Jamaica Fire Brigade employees both uniformed and non-uniformed personnel are very enthusiastic about the news letter, and we believe that the time has finally arrived where we must strive for one common ground, through which all concerned personnel can participate and contribute to the development of the Brigade in this Y2K era.
I am proposing that Firebreak be arranged with a section “To The Editor” where personnel can write to the newsletter and their concerns be published with a reply.
In addition to this suggestion, I have observed there exists a number of misconceptions among members of staff relating to rules and regulations of the Brigade, as well as information on new firefighting techniques. A “Did You Know?” section could be created to clear up these misconceptions.
I do wish my concerns will be considered and I wish the news letter continues to be a success.
Sergeant - FP Division
This feedback page was designed specifically to facilitate members’ input, and where specific questions are asked we will endeavour to provide the answers or direct you to the appropriate source. Editor.
Thanks giving service
The historic Mamby Park Baptist Church was filled as co-workers , family and friends came together in a thanks giving service for the life of he late Sgt. Justin Binns f the K.S.A.Division. Sgt. Binns who was originally from St. Elizabeth lived for a long time in the Golden Spring area .His career spanned twenty-nine years. He will be remembered as a gregarious personality filled with well being for his fellow man. He is survived by his wife and children and will be missed by the Brigade family.
Firebreak extends condolences to those members who recently lost loved ones.
Koran Wilson - Father
Roland Walters - Father
Cynthia McLeod-Headley - Mother
Thought for today
Calmness and tolerance act like air conditioning in a hot room. They increase everyone’s efficiency.