Amid concerns about a major shortage of fire officers island-wide, Deputy Fire Chief Lambert Charles has said that the issue lies with the central government to ensure that the Saint Lucia Fire Service (SLFS) is properly staffed.
Charles told St. Lucia News Online (SNO) today that the staff shortage is not a new issue and while fingers may be pointed to the management of the SLFS, they have no control over this issue.
He said, “We have been making recommendations every year, but as you know we fall under the Home Affairs Ministry and until the central government has made a decision to give us the green light to hire, we cannot.”
The deputy fire chief recalled that a feasibility study was done a few years ago, which actually pointed to the issue of staff shortage and recommendations were also made to have more persons hired within the fire service.
However, the government of the day, did not act on the recommendation and to date the issue has become much larger.
Station Officer at the Castries Fire Station Bernard Prospere told HTS News Force on Monday that the current batch of fire officers are being overworked and it has started to have a psychological effect on them.
He said there are five units to man within the Castries Fire Station and only nine staff to do it. According to him, a minimum of four persons should be attached to each of the four units.
Additionally, the two water tenders at the station also requires four fire officers. The control room is also short on one staff. Prospere said that there should be at least 18-20 fire officers on duty to cover each shift.
When asked to comment on whether he agrees with Prospere, that the shortage has started to affect the fire officers psychologically, the deputy fire chief said, “Well of course. We have ambulances on the road 24 hrs a day, which responds to shootings and other incidents apart from fires. We are also in the dry season so that would compound the whole situation.”
Following an island-wide strike by fire officers during September 2014, Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony had announced plans to review the operations and management of the SLFS by a team of British experts.
Charles said he is awaiting government to commence this evaluation, so that these issues could be ironed out.