Posted: Friday, November 27, 2020. 2:05 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Minister for Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management, Orlando “Landy” Habet, has assumed responsibility for the National Fire Service as part of his portfolio.
And he told us this afternoon that he is moving quickly to address concerns expressed to us by members of that service.
A firefighter we spoke to who wishes to remain anonymous noted that the Service’s annual performance appraisals have been backlogged at the former Ministry of Transport and National Emergency Management’s desk for years – in his case, since 2007.
While he alleged favoritism on the part of the staff there, the Minister told us he will move quickly to address this with Fire Chief Colin Gillett.
The appraisals dictate raises in salary and allowances – for instance, firefighters are denied a “wet and dirty” allowance granted to other public officers such as police for work which, as the name implies, get them wet and dirty.
Firefighters’ hours have been cut almost in half and overtime discontinued despite their working a full 24 hours whether or not there are fires active.
There have been no promotions of firefighters in the last year despite 50 officers doing promotional courses last year.
But of chief concern to both the Service and the Minister is trucks and equipment.
Even with the most recent donations, there are a total of 18 trucks covering the country, but no fire station has more than two, including Belize City – one at the main station and the other at its Southside branch on Dolphin Street. Several have been in service for years and the common complaint is that there is very little storage capacity for water on board, forcing firefighters to rely on more natural sources like creeks, canals, rivers, streams, and the sea if they are close to them.
The Minister told us that the Ministry will acquire what is known as “bowsers” to increase water capacity to fight fires. Part of the problem is that Belize Water Services Limited (BWS), he told us, has not been taking care of its fire hydrants, particularly in Belize City.
Firefighters, our source told us, must mentally and psychologically prepared for anything that happens at work. Here in the City, they effectively cover all of mainland Belize District and the current fleet is not roadworthy.
As for the fate of the current compound on Cleghorn Street which was sold to Atlantic Bank, Minister Habet reported that they are seeking a temporary area from which to serve while the new station is built on Lake Independence Boulevard. They are hoping to avoid court action which forces the Service to vacate Cleghorn Street by December 18.
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