Sun | Feb 28, 2021

Fire-safety education important to prepare people for an emergency

Published:Sunday | December 1, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Two water tender trucks that were presented to the St.Thomas Fire Department on display on the grounds of Jamaica House on Friday, November 22, 2019.

‘Firefighter (says) punish parents who leave kids unsupervised’. So screamed a headline in this newspaper on November 18. These comments were made by Jamaica Fire Brigade’s Area Four Assistant Commissioner Floyd McLean. His remarks were stated “in the wake of a recent fire in St James that killed two children at home while their mother was reportedly at a party. I’d like to see the full force of the law come to bear on our parents who believe that they’re at the point where they still should be running up and down on the road at night when their children ought to be protected at home”. Really?

Even though the fireman used the word ‘parents’, he was calling for the arrest and imprisonment of the children’s mother. The article quoted him as saying: “When a lady has four or five children and seems to be leaving them alone, we have to contact the Child Protection and Family Services Agency and the police. Something must be done about it because you’re going to end up having that problem in your community, and you’re going to say you knew that it would have happened.” Fathers were not mentioned. Presumably, they have the right to be running up and down the road at night and have no responsibility for the protection of their children!

This female parent, however, will forever be bearing the guilt and pain of her decision to leave them alone at home that night. Isn’t that enough punishment?


Applying the “full force of the law” does not solve problems. Murders are still taking place despite the zones of special operations. Some public passenger vehicle operators are still driving like ‘leggo beasts’. They are still using cell phones even though they know that the new Road Traffic Act, which is about to come into operation, outlaws the practice and imposes increased penalties for violations. British Caribbean Insurance recognises that trying to reduce the madness on the roads is a complex undertaking. It says that it will be spending money on education and training to change driver and conductor behaviour. The company should be applauded.

The fireman missed a great opportunity to disseminate information to prevent similar tragedies from taking place in the future. Fire-safety education is important and powerful in preparing families and children for a fire emergency, especially when practised. Information like this would have been more helpful than calling for the punishment of the female parent and describing others as lazy.

What do we know about local fire deaths and death rates, generally, and rates for children, in particular? What are the risks of dying in a fire in urban versus rural areas? Is the incidence of fires and deaths from fires increasing or decreasing? What are the principal causes for household fires? What are the most appropriate strategies to prevent a recurrence of the St James incident? Sadly, Mr Mclean did not speak about any of these matters.


It is only when we have answers to basic questions like these that we can begin to understand the nature of the problem and develop solutions. According to the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, “The people of the Caribbean aspire to achieve not least a safe living environment … .” The protection of children from deaths by fires that are preventable is an important social issue. This a subject that the Insurance Association of Jamaica,The Jamaica Bankers Association, working in collaboration with CAPRI and other agencies, should be working to help find solutions instead of ‘locking them up’. The Jamaica Fire Brigade, despite its good intentions, is clearly not up to the task.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s public relations arm has a much better grasp of some aspects of the problem. “Exposed flames are a danger to children and their use should be discontinued with immediacy” (sic). This is unrealistic. The statement continues: “Fire hazards such as candles, kerosene lamps, exposed electrical wiring, flammable items, accelerants, and all other such hazards should be removed in all instances, and kept out of the reach of children … .”

The Jamaica Information Service also reports him as saying: “In the last few years, I have embarked on a solar light distribution programme intended to replace the use of open flames as a source of lighting in poorer households. The lights are charged by sunlight in the daytime and last up to eight hours when fully charged.” Questions: What are the costs? Can poor citizens afford the solar system?

Replacement of kerosene lamps and candles with solar systems does not address young mothers’ needs – particularly those of child-bearing age – for social interaction that parties provide. Are they not entitled to attend a few sessions occasionally instead of staying home and minding babies? Wouldn’t a community-based baby-sitting facility under the supervision of a responsible adult or group of adults prevent tragedies like the one that occurred in St James and help to preserve the lives of our children?

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. If you need free information or counsel to help you solve a problem, write to