Island temporarily left without fire cover as Covid continues to affect the BFRS
Firefighters said Bermuda was temporarily left without fire coverage yesterday after one fire station was closed and firefighters from the two remaining stations responded to a blaze.
Three fire trucks and eight firefighters quickly extinguished the fire in Hamilton Parish, but a spokesman for the Fire Service Association said staffing shortages meant the incident left the service temporarily unable to respond to other calls.
The spokesman said yesterday: “With Port Royal Station being closed and this fire happening, it pulled resources from the Hamilton Station and the Clearwater Station, which left the entire island without coverage.”
But the Renee Ming, the Minister of National Security, said station closures caused by Covid-19 would not cause a lack of coverage.
Ms Ming said: “The BFRS is made up of highly trained, professional individuals who are more than capable of responding to incidents anywhere on the island in an efficient, rapid and safe manner.
“The trucks and EMT personnel can reposition across the island, in carefully selected locations, to ensure that coverage is maintained.”
A spokesman for the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service said they had received a call about a brush fire on Crawl Point Lane East shortly after 9.30am.
“Upon arrival fire crews found an area of debris approximately 10 sq ft burning. The burn area had spread to an adjacent chicken coop.
“The fire was quickly extinguished by firefighters. The cause of the fire is under investigation.”
One fire truck was seen outside the Crawl Point Lane East property while two other trucks remained near the junction with North Shore Road.
The firefighters had begun to leave the area at about 10.45am.
An FSA spokesman said the number of trucks that respond to a call depend on the specifics of the fire.
He said: “If it is a brush fire, it depends on how big it is and if you need back-up.
“If it is a house fire, the protocol is usually two firefighters in and two firefighters out.
“When we have four people in a truck, you need the driver, who is also the pump operator, and the sergeant, who is in charge of the scene, and then you have two firefighters who will actually go into the fire.
“A second truck from an outlying station would come in with their sergeant and their driver and their two to go into after the other two come out.
“There are always people inside, and there are always people who are back-up for those who are in.”
The Ministry of National Security was asked a series of questions by The Royal Gazette about issues related to staffing levels within the fire service.
· Can the minister confirm how many BFRS firefighters have been out of work this past week because of Covid-19 (either because they are Covid-positive or have had close contact with someone who was)?
· When is the fire service expected to be fully staffed?
· Is it anticipated that there will be future temporary closures of any of the island’s fire stations?
· Is there a contingency plan to ensure that the fire service will not be further impacted by Omicron or future waves of Covid-19?
· Can the minister confirm what impact the temporary closure of the Clearwater Fire Station and the Port Royal Fire Station this weekend had on emergency response times?
· According to the Budget, there were five vacant firefighter positions – is there any plan to fill those vacancies, and would those positions be sufficient to prevent staff shortages?
· What is being done to address future shortages of firefighters given the number of firefighters expected to retire in the coming years?
The FSA said earlier this week that the latest wave of Covid-19 had left 35 firefighters – more than half of the service’s personnel – unable to work, which resulted in temporary closures of both Port Royal and Clearwater fire stations over the weekend.
Staff shortages had also hindered the Clearwater station’s ability to operate an ambulance, which the FSA said had caused longer response times for those in the East End.
The FSA has warned that while some staff are expected to return to work this week, more firefighters would still be needed to ensure uninterrupted service.
Ms Ming admitted last year that the island’s emergency services were plagued by staff shortages, dilapidated buildings and ageing equipment.
Yesterday, Ms Ming said she had met with the Senior Command of the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service about the issues facing firefighters.
Afterwards the minister issued a statement saying: “I would like to update the public on the current status of the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service, but first I want to express my gratitude for their tireless work during this most recent outbreak and indeed throughout the pandemic.
“I can report that the BFRS’s current staffing situation, while unfortunate, is not dissimilar to what is being experienced community-wide in both the public and private sector.
“The senior leadership of the fire service is conducting continuous risk assessments to ensure that the island is fully covered at all times. The public can be assured that all calls to the emergency services will be answered and responded to.
“I understand that when it is reported that a station is ‘closed’, it creates the impression that the service is somehow unable to perform their duties. That is simply not the case.”
She urged anyone in need of urgent assistance to call 911, adding: “Your call will be answered, and your emergency will be dealt with.”