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‘We need saving’: Over 30 firemen fall sick in chronic work conditions

Firefighters have had to chisel several trenches in the upstairs concrete floors of the Road Town fire station to channel the water that floods the roofless building whenever it rains. (BVI News photo)

By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff

More than two dozen fire officers stationed at the hurricane-ravaged Virgin Islands Fire & Rescue headquarters in Road Town have fallen ill to the dilapidated conditions they have been forced to work under for the last 14 months.

“We have 32 officers [and] every officer has been affected,” Chief Fire Officer Zebalon McLean told BVI News.

The fire chief said the overwhelming condition of the building has impacted his team in varying ways and several officers have had to take time off work as a result.

He said the general discomfort of the facility is causing the officers — especially those who work the graveyard shift — to lose sleep which, in turn, is affecting their performance in the field.

“When you are not sleeping comfortably it puts an even higher level of fatigue on you so you cannot get up and move as quickly as you can. So, a few of the officers may have lost half a step,” the fire chief explained.

“When it comes to emergency services, you have to remember the reason why we have to be in a position to respond 24 hours [a day]. It’s because you cannot wait for persons (fire officers) to come from home and come to the station and come and save lives. If that was the case, by the time you would have done that, the person would have died,” he reasoned.

Chronic conditions

When BVI News visited the station this week, the facility had just experienced a short burst of rainfall. Water was, therefore, seen pooling on the floors of the hallway and entryway of the building.

The absence of a roof on the facility had also caused water to seep through the cracks of the walls and into the building’s electrical circuits. Added to this hazard, an officer told our news centre that, despite constant cleaning, the facility is always wet and mouldy.

“How can we save people when we need saving ourselves?” — Fire officer

A further tour of the building led BVI News to a dark mosquito-infested room presumed to be the resting quarters of the officers, who are tasked with fighting fires and conducting rescue operations across Tortola. The air quality of the room was thick, mouldy, and dusty — conditions these officers have had to endure all hours of the day for the last 427 days, at least.

On the upstairs of the building — which was formerly used as the administration block — small trenches were chiselled on the concrete floor of every room. These ad hoc trenches were used to channel rainwater out of the building. One fire officer explained that the trenches were dug to reduce the amount of water that would pour on to the occupied downstairs area whenever it rained.

Tarpaulins and plyboard were also used to create a makeshift roof over the staircase of the building.

As BVI News moved from room to room at the facility, the onslaught of the last year’s disasters was still visibly evident.

Feeling unappreciated

Fire Chief McLean said his department submitted proposals to the Ministry of Finance roughly two weeks ago so that repairs can begin on the hurricane-ravaged building. He said he and his team remain hopeful that their condition will improve in the not-too-distant future.

The fire chief, however, pointed out that his officers’ morale is being affected because they feel unappreciated.

“They have to remind themselves of how important they are to the territory because it seems that the territory is not appreciative of how important they are … Until I have a brand new building, enough fire trucks, and have motivated officers, I will never be satisfied,” McLean told BVI News.

“I have officers who operate out of a building that looks like a pig sty; breathing contaminated air because every time it drizzles water gets into the building,” he further said.

McLean

Frustration

An officer who has been part of the team for the last 28 years, along with his junior colleague who has served more than 10 years in the department, expressed their frustrations about their working/living conditions.

“How can we save people when we need saving ourselves?” asked the junior officer, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of being victimized.

“I considered taking time off without pay till the place gets better but I have my family to look after,” he said.

“A year plus after the hurricane, we shouldn’t be in this still. We could understand a couple months but a whole year? It’s too much. We cannot do anything, we cannot even cook a meal … we have no kitchen now. The kitchen used to be upstairs but it got destroyed, now we have to be buying food. This is the worse I’ve been through,” his senior colleague added.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Communication & Works, Anthony McMaster, could not be immediately reached for comment up to publication time.

Copyright 2018 BVI News, Media Expressions Limited. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.

51 Comments

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  1. No Man says:

    Minister this is shameful. WTF is going on man?

    42
    • Oneal says:

      Which minister is responsible for this tragedy? Will this reporter ask him for his comment in the matter?

      Imagine if we had spent the $7.2M on fire control? Our firemen wouldn’t be getting sick and our dump fires would have been minimized.

    • Anonymous says:

      The smart people of the BVI are going to help the Brits with Brexit. You can’t wipe your own a**es. How disgusting and you expect people to keep coming as tourists. How despicable.

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  2. Pond apple says:

    Absolutely disgusting, first responders need to work in better conditions to be able to respond properly when required. Their needs should be first and foremost in importance for a decent place to work, in order to perform their tasks, they are the first blamed when something goes wrong. They too have families and homes that have been impacted by the hurricanes. They deserve better.

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  3. E. Leonard says:

    Every employee is entitled to and every employer should provide a safe, secure and healthful working condition. This is an urgent and important public safety issue and it should have been addressed long ago. The poor working conditions is adversely impacting the productivity, health and safety of firefighters; the current situation adversely impacts the ability to protect life and property. It shows a lack of respect and appreciation for firefighters.

    This is going out on a limb but it is highly likely given the condition of the building that it is infested with mold. Exposure to some types of mold pose a health risk to people. This is a national emergency that needs to be addressed now. It needed to be addressed yesterday but needs to be addressed to today, not tomorrow. Fixing the fire station and arrresting mold should be a top priority. The unfavorable condition is now in cyberspace and is not good image for the BVI.

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  4. Ausar says:

    And when Ausar complains that this government hires ineptitudes to fix infrastructural development, Ausar is seen as bringing down the BVI?

    It is these types of conditions that causes me to sound such alarms. Monies that could have now been spent on these structures, have been wasted on ten day roads- roads that last until the next heavy rain downpour!

    When our people are tired of being tired about shoddy infrastructure, tired of uncredentialled “contractors” “practicing”-and in a perpetual state of “practice” -with no real decisive conclusion about the problems, then our representatives will hire the learned professionals to affect the changes that our country needs!

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  5. Adic says:

    Now we talking.

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  6. YoungBlackMale says:

    THe headline says “‘We need saving’: Over 30 firemen falls sick in chronic work conditions” but if those 30 firemen held one head and staged a strike against the government and DEMANDED PROPER WORK CONDITIONS, this would not happen. So its majority their fault in my eyes. Same could be said about the people working in the moldy admin building. If you dont say anything yall think the govenment cares? BE real. Be BOLD! DEMAND Proper working facilities before you fall sick people.

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    • @YoungBlackMale says:

      To my knowledge, essential services employees, ie, police officers, fire services officers, medical professionals……..etc cannot strike. Nonetheless, fire officers should not have to strike to be able to work in a safe and healthy environment. The government needs to do the right and compassionate thing.

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  7. ndp heckler says:

    Action man is treating these guys worst than dogs

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Wouldn’t a few temporary tents be a means until?

    Those are awful conditions. No fake news there.

  9. shame shame says:

    MY GOD!!!!

  10. Laura says:

    I plead the blood of Jesus over the entire BVI. We need you more than ever Lord.

    Where are the men and women that we elected to serve US? People of the BVI wake up!!!!!

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  11. Concern WEST AND EAST says:

    They Could Find Money to build a new court to Lock UP young men but cant fix the Fire station. They got money to Buy new Police Dogs fix Prison but not the High School Or the Complex

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    • @Concern West And East says:

      History is simply carrying on as it always has from the beginning of colonialism.

      And such will not change until all vestiges of colonialism is removed from mankind lives.

      What you have stated is one of the pillars of colonialism, and it will never change until we change it.

      But don’t take these words literally, go and insert the mind in some intensive, deep prolonged history studies.

      Then you’ll be sure to be awakened as to why there are no schools or hospitals with HMS titles on them, only prisons..

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  12. Political Observer (PO) says:

    SHAMEFUL!

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  13. Oh no says:

    Yet we giving all the monies to the police, my God this is just sad.

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  14. Reason says:

    Where is the RDA?

  15. Fireman says:

    And when we call in sick they want know why smh

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  16. Lily Ann says:

    32 Big Man cant get tarps and patch up the roof themselves???? If this happened in other Caribbean Countries, that building wouldve been top notch without Govt help !!

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    • @YoungBlackMale says:

      To my knowledge, essential services employees, ie, police officers, fire services officers, medical professionals……..etc cannot strike. Nonetheless, fire officers should not have to strike to be able to work in a safe and healthy environment. The government needs to do the right and compassionate thing.

    • RealPol says:

      @Lily Ann, true due it yourself (DIY) but responsibility is government. Public safety must be a top priority.

    • @Lily Ann says:

      You have got to be joking or smoking. Please if you think they should do that…get your hammer and YOU lead the way…they were not hired to do construction…they were hired to put out fires and be first responders. TARPS cannot save them from mold infestation…TARPS going tile the floor? TARPS going restore the electricity….stop your nonsense please

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      • Online Now says:

        Nothing to do with what they were hired for. Look at the volunteers who came from overseas to help. Why can’t these men help themselves when not putting out fires?

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        • Haha says:

          Are you stupid? Will you donate the supplies? These men are firemen are they also construction workers? Will you ask the minister in charge to cast the first concrete?

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          • Online Now says:

            They have spent 14 months like that. There comes a point when people have to help themselves. I am quite sure that organisations would have donated materials.

            I know this is not their responsibility but sometimes you have to help yourself.

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    • Firefighter says:

      So should your first responders who’s primary job is to save lives and protect property be subjected to unhealthy and unsafe conditions for over a year now?? And to top it off you want to insult them by saying patch roof with tarp?? Until the majority of the public and the GOVERNMENT Give fire service in these Virgin Islands the respect they deserve Firefighters will always be neglected .

    • oh really says:

      who you think put the simple doors on the front n back to keep the fire man them safe at night? who u think put the plea on the roof after the wood been sitting in the bay for more than 6/7 months if you take action on anything this government over its a problem when you do as simple as the softball field they asked to put fence an GV stop them from putting it

  17. @Concern West And East says:

    History is simply carrying on as it always has from the beginning of colonialism.

    And such will not change until all vestiges of colonialism is removed from mankind lives.

    What you have stated is one of the pillars of colonialism, and it will never change until we change it.

    But don’t take these words literally, go and insert the mind in some intensive, deep prolonged history studies.

    Then you’ll be sure to be awakened as to why there are no schools or hospitals with HMS titles on them, only prisons..

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  18. SMH says:

    This is beyond acceptance! Yet the Government finding money to pay for contratural projects that are of less pressing concerns. All those big wigs in Government needs to go…a change is a clean sweep…no repeats, new faces, new visions, better progress!

  19. C is for... says:

    THANK YOU BVI NEWS for shining the light on this issue. How the heck can we vote back in NDP???? How??? This is deplorable and they have money to feed their cronies with less pressing jobs.

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  20. RDA says:

    Surely this is exactly the sort of thing the RDA should be trying to expedite?

  21. Online Now says:

    Whilst I agree it is not the firemen’s responsibility to fix themselves, you only have to look at the fantastic work the voluntary organisations have done to fix other buildings. Those volunteers were not experts either but worked their free time to help.
    I am sure 32 healthy firemen could find time to erect a temporary roof to improve their own conditions!

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  22. nick says:

    gvt gave away 330 k to stop a fire who still burning and they can not give money to the fire station?.

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  23. Hopeless says:

    I would rather get together with other firemen and volunteer tradesmen and spend a few hours each weekend to improve our working conditions, rather than sit and complain for a year.

    Can’t they at least ask Mark if he can provide whatever materials he can? Where is the leadership within the fire department?

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  24. Eye4&Eye says:

    the fire man them can start repairing the building while they are hardly being used in the BVI

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  25. Hah says:

    What’s worse than this situation is the idiots that continue to defend NDP despite the obvious.
    Police begging for help, fireman begging for help, teachers begging for toilet paper. Irma didn’t do this to us it was our own people that we elected.

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  26. Resident says:

    the ndp has failed the bvi

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  27. Wow says:

    Just want to put my 2 cents in…Firemen, police,teachers, students…was are working in some dangerous situations and just afraid to talk out because the people who are our heads use their bullying tactics to control us and shut us up…people need to get closer to the Constitution and the Human right bill…we don’t have to work in these health risk place. Mold taking over.

    • Kintu says:

      Its modern day slavery. They take all our money and spend it on themselves (BVI airlines) or trying to buy votes to get reelected (school wall). Then they leave us in moldy buildings and exposed to burning toxic waste. We aint got no reliable power. No clean water. No internet have the time. Good for noting roads. Garbage everywhere.

      Lord help us as dem elected officials sure cant do it.

  28. Reality says:

    Ok it is shocking that gov has not sorted this but here is a thing, most of the time fire men are paid to be sitting around in case there is an emergency call out. So that’s 32 fit young men being paid for doing nothing 70% of the time . So in a year these fit young healthy and paid public servants have sat around and done nothing to improve their own environment.

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  29. Bothered says:

    The politicians are too busy lining their pockets with money .Stop rewarding them with your votes for incompetence..They work for you,not the other way around..It’s burning shame,not even wild animals should live in that kind of condition.The powers that be, should be ashamed!!

  30. Who not to vote for! says:

    Who’s incharge pr this sector…so I can know absolutely who not to vote for! The fire station , high school, and agriculture buildings down in pariquita bay has be neglected to the fullest. Even if the funds aren’t there the first step of cleaning up and removing from the damaged couldve been taken. So that when it’s time to rebuild they have a clear view of what needs to be done. Smfh disgrace!

  31. Anonymous says:

    Oh. Of course extending the airport for millions of dollars has priority over taking care of our own community…..
    This is beyond ridiculous!

  32. OMG says:

    Jesus wept what

  33. Resident says:

    ndp has failed the bvi, so many people are still working in unsanitary conditions after more than a year since the hurricane its a disgrace

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