Tue | May 30, 2023
Our Jamaica

Firefighters overwhelmed with bushfires

Published:Monday | March 20, 2023 | 9:48 PM
For feedback: contact the Editorial Department at onlinefeedback@gleanerjm.com.

Firefighters all over the country have been struggling to keep up with bushfires.  Whether man-made or natural bushfires, the firemen say they are hard to contain. They also shared that the volume of fires has them working extra-long shifts.

Rainfall brings relief from Temple Hall bushfires

... but firefighters say discontent brewing among their ranks

16 Mar 2023/Corey Robinson/ Senior Staff Reporter corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com


AFTER TWO days of rainfall, residents of Temple Hall in St Andrew are thanking the heavens for a reprieve from bushfires plaguing the area, wreaking havoc on their health and domestic lives.

So, too, are staff at the Stony Hill Fire Station, who on Wednesday, expressed hope that the rains would continue throughout the week as bushfires – coupled with regular emergencies – have forced late nights and long hauls even as whispers of protest actions burn throughout the brigade.

Firemen in the area report at least a dozen bushfires since last weekend and a whopping 99 since February. At least two bushfires occurred last weekend, sickening some residents and causing others to abandon clotheslines or even thoughts of opening their windows.

“It has been very rough out there for us. On some occasions, we are out there for up to seven, eight hours non-stop,” said 26-year veteran Sergeant Paul Thomas, recalling how firefighters pumped water from a nearby river all night to keep the flames at bay.

“Bushfires are more rigorous, far harder than a regular house fire. In a house fire, we go into the building and do our thing and quickly get things under control most times. For the bushfires, we have to make trips with water and then there is the terrain that we have to face,” he explained.

With resources low, the York Park and Port Royal fire stations in Kingston had to be called on to assist on occasions, Thomas said.

Yesterday, however, one firefighter from those stations told The Gleaner that morale has been low as firefighters protest poor wages.

“We have a condition in our contracts where we can’t strike; we can only do work to rule,” the senior firefighter said, referring to a term used to describe the following of official working rules and hours exactly in order to reduce output and efficiency, especially as a form of industrial action.

“Right now, the ground is tense. People are very restive. Some are not turning up to work and other things,” he said, noting that the actions have severely affected manpower.

Firefighters have repeatedly protested for better work conditions, the latest being suspended fireman Leo Bennett, who climbed atop the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew on Tuesday to press home welfare concerns.

Meanwhile, as one bushfire razed the woodland directly behind her home in Halls Green on Monday morning, Tory Spencer and others used containers filled with water to battle the menacing flames. Inside, her two 70-odd-year-old parents looked on nervously.

Luckily, the firefighters soon turned up.

Even then, however, there were setbacks as a responding fire truck could not cross a narrow bridge to the community. Residents stepped in, using a smaller truck to transport firefighting equipment to the blaze, and in the morning, they offered tea to the weary firemen.

“I am very thankful for the firefighters. I don’t know what we would have done without them,” said Spencer, noting that her two nephews, ages 12 and seven, were sickened by the smoke and soot from the bushfires.

Nearby, Zion Hill resident Kerry Ann Smith said that she woke up to a separate fire on Sunday, which immediately sparked an asthma attack. She revealed that she has been walking with pumps in case of an eventuality.

“I was sleeping, and when I jumped up, I realised I couldn’t breathe. I had to grab the pump and lock up the house fast,” she said as other women from the community chimed in.

“We couldn’t hang out any clothes. We had to wash and hang them inside. We can’t put them on the line,” one chimed in.

For feedback: contact the Editorial Department at onlinefeedback@gleanerjm.com.