The Newsletter of the Jamaica Fire Brigade
The Brigade Saga
As we continue to observe the operations of the Jamaica Fire Brigade we are somewhat reminded of the voyages of Christopher Columbus. At least from the crew's perspective. Obviously Columbus had supreme confidence in his theory that the world was round and had some idea where he was going, but we suspect, the crew was somewhat at a loss, exactly the position some of us in the Brigade (if not the majority) now find ourselves in.
At different intervals there is a fervour of activity with requests for estimates of equipment needs and for building repairs. Various pronouncements have been made about an upgraded fleet, new training facility, relocation of Brigade Headquarters and expansion of the Emergency Medical services
What we failed to observe was that just like the voyage of the Pinta, Nina, and the Santa Maria, there was no estimated time of arrival. No body knows when we will land or if they know they are certainly not talking.. This is characteristic of the communication process within the Brigade that is quick to censor but very slow to provide general information that gives a sense of direction and helps to maintain morale. As a result the grapevine has a field day and cynicism is the order of the day.
Vehicles are another sore point in the Brigade. They continue to fail at the drop of a hat. Some are reportedly at external garages and we hope they will be returned before they are sold as is where is, or disappear completely out of the system. Since the start of the year the Brigade has constantly been in the news because of its financial problems and it now seems that there is no end to the problems.
History recalls that Columbus did eventually sight land. Firebreak spotted land recently on a trip along the Spanish Town bypass adjacent to the Jose Marte High School. There standing amid the detritus and wild vegetation was a beautiful sign that proclaimed "Jamaica Fire Brigade Training School proposed site".
We finally have land of our own after many years and repeated promises. Ironically this is about the third time in the past 20 years that we have heard this so let us hope that we begin to utilize, or at least clear the land before it is reallocated to some other more politically expedient project or agency
The fact that where Columbus landed was not where he set out for originally has been explained a number of ways by historians. What we do know is that he learned the hard way that he needed to keep persons in informed or else get marooned on the beach when they drew the wrong conclusions and acted on them. He also learned that those in charge are always called to account at the end of the day. Lets hope we in the Brigade have learned from history.
Finally in this commentary, whatever happened to the traditional practice of publishing orders when especially senior officers go on leave, so that those concerned would be aware and know who were acting for them. It is so disconcerting to telephone somebody only to hear that they have been on leave for some time and not being sure where to turn next.
When the going gets tough
Firebreak salutes firefighters in Manchester, who made headlines in local newspapers recently, when thy went on foot to fight a bush fire inaccessible to the fire unit, and used buckets of water and beaters to put out the flames.
The fire occurred on Sunday the 8th February, in the Christiana area of Manchester. On approach, District Officer Dervan Miller and crew discovered that hey could only get within a half of a mile of the fire by vehicle and decided to respond on foot. The other members of the crew were, Sergeant Jerry Virtue, Corporal Trevor Robinson, Lance Corporal Delroy Campbell, Firefighters Errol Scott and Brittania Gayle. Well Done!!
K. S. A elections
The Kingston & St. Andrew Division Sports Club held it's annual general meeting and election of executives on 29th January 2004.
The election results showed that Dennis "Roaring Lion" Lyon was again president of the club. He will be supported by . Vice President Troy Fraser, Treasurer Rudolph Davids, Assistant Treasurer Berris Burke, Club Captain Errol James, Assistant Club Captain Otis Rowe, Secretary Nicole Ellis and Assistant Secretary Faith Mitchell.
Members of the club voted unanimously to increase club dues from the current $100 per month to $150 per month, effective 25th February 2004. The executive is currently developing strategies to make a big haul of trophies for the Area at the next sports day. All divisions beware!
Overseas training assistance
Between 23rd February and 5th March 2004, the Brigade received assistance from the Hartford Conneticut Fire Department in training for rescue from road traffic accidents and tactics for dealing with high rise building fires. Participants were drawn from all divisions within the Brigade.
Chief H. C. Teale conducted the high rise fire fighting module while
Lieutenant Clifton Cooper conducted the extrication training which included lectures, video tape presentations and practical exercises.
The two officers met briefly with the Minister of Local Government and the commissioner on Thursday 4th March 2004 and were feted later that evening at a dinner hosted by the Brigade's board chairman Mr. D. T. Brown.
Promotional examinations for the ranks from Lance Corporal to District Officers are to be conducted within the first half of the year.
The Unions have sought and received an undertaking from Brigade Headquarters that this will be done. Currently, the syllabus and students notes are being revised. Firebreak will keep you updated.
The Training Dilemma
It is a well established fact that ample preparation is essential for the successful completion of any exercise. Part of this preparation, especially when the tasks to be accomplished are dynamic and in most instances dangerous, must be a sustained programme of training.
This Fire Brigade is unique in that scant regard is given to sustained organized training at all levels of the organization. The paltry excuse that in the absence of a permanent training school, we cannot provide an effective level of training is not acceptable when the continued efficiency of the organization is dependent on up to date training.
Let us examine the consequences of not training regularly. Firstly complacency sets in and persons lose acquired skills, or more accurately lose proficiency through lack of practice. In-service training is necessary to instill confidence, maintain professionalism and team spirit. Secondly, unsafe practices and shortcuts begin to emerge which will lead to increased injuries and damage to equipment. Thirdly, in the absence of training, as the more experienced firefighters retire, the organization is left with a large body of inexperienced and largely untried persons. This year alone over 40 persons will retire from the Brigade island-wide.
The fourth and not so obvious consequence is that in the absence of on-going training any performance appraisal that takes place will be subjective because there are no indicators to measure the competence of the staff.
It is high time that Area Officers, Divisional Heads and Watch Commanders take a more active role in staff training and not just pay lip service. The few hours that are currently spent reading from students notes which now passes for training is not sufficient. There must be a new drive to undertake a training programme that is realistic and simulates the actual activities that firefighters become involved in. The station buildings can be used to simulate emergency scenes with a little creativity. Powdered soap can be used for exercises instead of foam compound. Crawl spaces can be devised using tarpaulin, ladders and ropes, and there are many other innovative ways to conduct activities.
The other side of the argument is that the limited resources the Brigade has, for example breathing apparatus, needs to be reserved for actual operations, and cannot be used for training because of the difficulty in refilling the cylinders.
This was a common excuse when Firebreak spoke with persons on the ground. While there may be some merit to the argument, firefighters need to be reminded that while the volume of air required is critical at an incident, a half full cylinder allows for practice in many simple evolutions with proper safety precautions.
There is also the fact the funding is required, especially for courses run at the Area level and against the current economic constraints, money is just not available.
What is needed now is a change in the attitude of Firefighters and Officers, where all accept that drills, table top exercises, simulations with other agencies etc. must be a part of their regular activities.
All persons must buy into a vision that declares 'We train for excellence'.
Meet the staff
In this issue we introduce Assistant Commissioner Lynden Mattocks - Chief Fire Prevention Officer who has the distinction of being the longest currently serving member of staff.
Born 19th April 1946 in Seaton, St. Mary. Mr Mattocks joined the then St. Thomas Fire Brigade on 21st December 1964 after a brief stint in teaching. He has worked in St. Thomas, Portland, St. Ann and since 1995 transferred to Kingston in his present post.
He holds diplomas in administration and disaster management from the Ministry of the Public Service and the United States Agency for International Development and is an active member of the Rotary Club of St. Andrew North. Married with five children, Mr. Mattock's approach to life is action packed and fast paced. In fact he describes himself as a workaholic. His hobby is gardening, he is a fan of cricket and football and used to be brilliant table tennis player
Firebreak asked about his vision for the Brigade and he immediately hoped for an enlarged and updated fleet of fire appliances ,and that more persons with tertiary level education join and contribute to the development of the Brigade. On retirement Mr. Mattocks plans to continue his work with the needy through his association with service clubs.
More Japanese units
Ten more used firefighting units were recently received from Japan as part of that country's continued assistance to the Jamaica Fire Brigade. Only three of the units however have onboard water tanks and these have since been deployed to K.S.A.' St. James and Westmoreland
Divisions. The others are slate to be used for support services.
After a long delay and repeated calls for its resumption, your newsletter is back and will continue to be a bimonthly publication both as hard copy and on the Brigade's website.
Let me remind you that the newsletter is intended as a forum for you to express your ideas and opinions as well as share high points in the Brigade operations. I therefore appeal to you to contribute to a medium that allows for your participation in dialogue without the stamp of officialdom.
I am also requesting suggestions /nominations for an editor and support staff to compile and publish a news letter that reflects your desires. Since its inception in April 2001the news letter has been under the stewardship of a small core group that fostered its development. This is not necessarily a good thing because without variety life loses some of its spice.
In these times of economic uncertainty let us endeavor to keep the newsletter alive as a feature that is uniquely our own and one that reflects the regional and national life of the Brigade. Share a joke, hail a friend tell a story. Together we can overcome the bad times and prepare for the future.