By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff
Insufficient emergency equipment to fight fires is a major concern in the British Virgin Islands, and Opposition Leader Andrew Fahie believes local government should give greater priority to the issue.
Fahie’s remark comes on the heels of Saturday’s fire at VI Motors gas station in Duff’s Bottom, Tortola.
A BVI News tally indicates more than five vehicles were damaged in the blaze, which was extinguished through a joint effort between the local fire department, the BVI Electricity Corporation, and a number of private water truck operators.
A BVI Airports Authority fire unit was also called to provide back-up; resulting in the TB Lettsome International Airport becoming temporaily closured. It has since reopened.
“I have been asking about the fire stations, fire equipment and many things along the emergency line not because I want to gain political points or to be negative. But you cannot have a country who boasts a budget of nearly $300-plus million and the fire department does not have the equipment it needs to adequately respond or adequately fight fires,” Fahie told BVI News in an invited comment.
Total serious and a total embarrassment
He described the airport’s temporary closure as a ‘serious matter’ and one he considers to be “a total embarrassment and shame which could have been avoided”.
“I am calling on the government to cease and desist [from permitting] the fire truck leaving the airport to continuously have to come to major fires causing the airport to close,” he said.
The Opposition Leader also said something adverse could have happened to the airport truck while it was responding to the gas sation fire. And if that had happened, Fahie said it would mean trouble for the territory since the airport legally cannot function without a truck on site.
“Our tourism product, our economy, cannot be made to suffer because this government is not addressing some urgent national issues especially in relation to emergency response. They need to have a priority list that will adequately address the needs of the territory now. Not a political list [but] a national list that will address the urgent needs of the territory.”
He said a ‘full plan’ for emergency response is overdue.
To buttress his point, Fahie referenced the recent fire at the R&R Malone Complex in Pockwood Pond, and the Cox Health fire, which took roughly one month to extinguish.
“You would think that some moves would have been made since then in case we had something else,” he said
“These are not Virgin Islands Party or National Democratic Party issues but national issues which need to be addressed forthwith and should already have been addressed because this government had enough money and time to plan, and there are absolutely no excuses for it not to be addressed.”
Airport fire unit took no action
According to Fire Chief Zebalon McLean, airport firefighters ‘did not take any action’ but were there for support in the event their assistance was required.
“In a case like this when it comes to the presence of fuel, we want to have as much foam nearby as possible. We don’t use water in a fuel fire because fuel floats on top of the water.”
McLean said while other fire trucks are equipped with foam capability, it was necessary to have the airport fire truck at the scene on standby.
The gas station fire took between 15 to 20 fire officers to bring it under control, BVI News was told.
Just last week, government said at least three emergency services facilities will have undergone complete repairs in the next few weeks. One of those facilities is the Capoon’s Bay Fire Station in West End.
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