(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — In much the same way that the police are being affected by prank calls to 119, the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) says that false alarms are having a negative effect on its operations.
Fire Brigade Commissioner Stewart Beckford told reporters and editors at this week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange that the service received 1,303 prank calls in 2018. At the same time, the brigade received 9,309 genuine calls for the year.
Prank calls increased by approximately 22 per cent in 2018, the commissioner said, moving from 1,071 in the previous year.
According to Deputy Commissioner in charge of Operations Warren Malcolm, prank calls oftentimes affect the brigade’s response to genuine calls.
“A number of times when we receive these false calls they impact the Jamaica Fire Brigade’s response in a negative way, because the time we would have spent responding to a false alarm, we [miss] genuine calls that are sometimes put on hold in order to facilitate these. Because we have to respond to all calls, not knowing whether or not it’s false,” Malcolm said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Beckford said ideally the fire brigade would need a central dispatch centre
“What we ideally want to see is a unit set up within the Jamaica Fire Brigade itself that is manned by firefighters on a 24-hour basis, where we will receive calls, record calls, and dispatch accordingly. What we have now is an almost two-tiered system. Majority of the calls will go into 110, then they are sent to the nearest fire station. That is what the dispatcher may think. In some instances, it’s not really the nearest fire station, so that is a problem,” Beckford told editors and reporters.
“We want it manned by staff because they have the knowledge and experience so that when a fire is occurring at location X they know the nearest fire station and are readily able to dispatch that fire unit. It will cut out the delayed time and period in which it takes for the persons who are calling to get to 110. It takes time for 110 to take that information and pass it to us, and then we have to interrogate 110 who sometimes don’t have the information because they don’t know certain information that they need to pull out from the individual that will assist us getting to the scene as quickly as possible. If the call comes to us sometimes we can use that to determine whether a call is genuine or false,” he added.
The fire officials also said that some calls that they categorise as pranks are placed with good intent. This means that an individual may call to report a fire he or she observed, but when firefighters arrive at the scene the fire is nothing considered major. The brigade received 399 such calls last year.
Beckford said that in order to establish this central dispatch centre, significant funding is required.
“I’m not able to give a figure off hand, but I know we had developed a programme some years ago which we wanted to implement, [but] it was not supported and so we had to put it on hold. The Government is now currently in discussions with the Japanese Government and there is a programme that is now actively being pursued and I’m being advised that we should see a roll-out of that programme sometime in May of this year. That should really enhance our communication capabilities, but in terms of the dispatch, it’s just a matter of funding,” said Beckford.