The St. Lucia Fire Service (SLFS) is plagued with a number of issues, but the most critical one is the high level of absenteeism, which is mainly caused by increasing numbers of sick leave taken by firefighters.
Acting Fire Chief Lambert Charles told St. Lucia News Online (SNO) today that between the period January to June, the Fire Service has received some 822 sick leave and 597 un-certified leave.
This figure does not include the period July to December, which when calculated will determine the annual total number of certified and uncertified sick leave taken by firefighters island-wide.
“I have written and spoken about it. I don’t really have any mechanism to deal with it and this is not something unique to the Fire Service,” Charles explained.
According to him, several other government agencies are crippled by the same manner in which public servants apply for this specific type of leave.
Asked to what extent this issue has affected the Fire Service, Charles said it has already affected not only the main office, but fire stations located in different parts of the island.
“Supervisors are not sure what their staffing levels would be on a daily basis, so that affects response, training and preparation,” he lamented.
Charles noted however that it is very unusual for the Fire Service to record such high levels of “uncertified leave”, but recent figures indicate that there has been a large increase.
While the acting fire chief was reluctant to speak more on the issue, there have been reports that firefighters are taking advantage of the uncertified leave and in most cases abuse the system.
It was reported that having recognised this issue, the leadership of the Fire Service had recommended that firefighters are referred to specific medical doctors to issue them a sick leave, because there is a possibility that these certificates could be obtained without proper reason.
However, the St. Lucia Fire Service Association (SLFSA) had claimed that this is a violation of firefighters right to seek medical attention from their personal doctors and a decision can only be made in this regard in consultation with the association.
It is speculated that the firefighters take advantage of this arrangement, especially since they are not required to submit a medical certificate only after three days.
The strike action taken by the firefighters during the month of September has also caused the total number of sick leave to increase. Over 100 firefighters were away from work for close to one week.
Apart from its core responsibility, the Fire Service is also in charge of providing emergency ambulance services, making them a key part of the health-response team on the island.