Four months after Hurricane Irma unleashed a nightmare of devastation on the territory, officers at the Virgin Islands Fire and Rescue Service are still living that nightmare inside a cramped, mold-infested headquarter building in Road Town.
It’s a condition that Chief Fire Officer, Zebalon McLean has likened to that of a sheep pen.
“We have been trying to remain committed to the job, but the best way I can describe it, to be honest, is the officers are living in something like a sheep pen. It is really demoralizing to them to know that they always give it their best and they have not been able to see a bit more support coming their way,” McLean lamented during an exclusive interview with BVI News Online.
Giving a rundown of the condition at the station the fire chief noted that during the hurricane the roof was destroyed, resulting in the upstairs section of the building being flooded. The downstairs section was also impacted.
“So we have no more administrative offices, no more storeroom, no more filing room, no more conference rooms, no more kitchen, no more lounges, no more records, no more computers…nothing at all upstairs,” he said.
Plyboards are being used to cover gaping holes and serving as makeshift windows and doors to protect fire officers from the elements.
As if the structural issues were not enough, the fire chief said his officers are also battling a mold infestation.
As a result, the lockers in the barracks had to be dismantled while clothing and other personal belongings for the men under his command have had to be discarded.
“It has been very difficult for them to breathe in that environment and with the place open, the dust can easily get in,” McLean said.
He further argued that while he understands that they are not the only civil servants facing hardship at this time because of the hurricane, he thinks their long working hours put them at a greater disadvantage.
“Every building that house government officials had been affected, but one of the main differences between us and other government departments is the fact that the officers have to be on duty 24-hours, which include the night time hours. So you have many government officers who would go to their buildings in the day and they have gaping holes and windows and doors missing, but when they finish they go home. Our officer’s do not have that luxury.”
Quick Action Needed
While calling for quick action to be taken to address condition at the station, he said the Public Works Department had shown him sketches of a plan to remodel the building.
McLean said however that it is difficult to ask for patience from his staff while the plan is being worked on, especially since there have been no comforting words coming from any high-ranking member of Government.
“What I would like to see is a greater level of consideration given to the fire service, given the fact that we save the country millions of dollars in damages a year. They look at the revenue-collecting departments and they look at how much money they bring into the territory, but they don’t look at our department and realize how much money we save the Government in damages each and every year.”
“So I would like if a bigger bone was being thrown our way considering what we have to do,” he argued.
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