OBA calls on Government to show how East End fire shortages will be fixed
The Government has been slammed for failing to provide the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service with sufficient manpower and equipment.
Michael Dunkley, the Opposition One Bermuda Alliance spokesman on national security, described the long-running saga between the Government and members of the Fire Service Association as “alarming”, and insisted that new National Security Minister Michael Weeks needed to take action.
Complaints about a lack of manpower at BFRS have rumbled on for several years, with firefighters claiming that they need at least 18 additional staff in order to operate effectively.
In addition to out-of-date equipment, it is argued that the Clearwater Station at Southside does not have enough manpower to operate a fire truck and an ambulance simultaneously.
That dispute was referred to arbitration at the weekend, when it was also announced that fire association members had passed a vote of no confidence in Lloyd Burchall, the Chief Fire Officer.
And on Tuesday, The Royal Gazetterevealed that the firefighting capability rating at LF Wade International Airport had been downgraded to a category five due to staff shortages.
Yesterday, Mr Dunkley said: “The OBA is very concerned at the continued and prolonged labour grievance endured by the professionals at the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service due to a lack of attention by the PLP Government.
“The very fact that this labour grievance has continued for an extended period of time and there is a vote of no confidence in the leadership is alarming and should have long been met by action from the Government.
“While these issues have dragged on for too long, it is inexcusable that the health and safety of those in the East End and the status of our airport is in question, because the current government is unable to resolve the matters or does not take the grievances seriously.“
Fire Service Association representatives met with Mr Weeks on Monday, and later claimed that the minister seemed unfamiliar with the crisis.
On that point, Mr Dunkley said: “The OBA finds it extremely concerning that the new Minister of National Security was unaware of these issues prior to meeting with members of the FSA. It is unacceptable to fly blind.
“The PLP has taken great liberty and has spent a lot of time focusing on its distorted version of the good airport deal negotiated by then-OBA government.
“It is interesting that one of government's retained services is now falling short of what is required.
“The current silence by government ministers and East End MPs, all of whom are members of the PLP, is a telling sign. The people in the East End, our firefighters and all travellers deserve better service by the Government.
“It is long past time these matters are addressed and we fully expect a statement by the Government which outlines how each and every one will be resolved.“
The Royal Gazette contacted east end MPs on Tuesday, asking if they had spoken to constituents about the issue.
Kim Swan, the MP for St George’s West, replied: “Constituents have shared their concerns with me relating to emergency services coverage in the east.
“The issue has been discussed with the Minister of National Security, who himself is an east end resident, and I am confident that sufficient resources are in place to ensure that the constituents have the protection required in case of emergency.
“Though it has led to a labour dispute I am pleased that the minister has restored dedicated ambulance coverage to the East End and our constituents are grateful.”
The Royal Gazette first contacted the Government about the current dispute on Monday.
We asked minister Weeks to provide details of his meeting with firefighters, and what he planned to do about the crisis. No response was received by press time last night.
This newspaper also e-mailed questions to East End MPs Tinee Furbert, Lovita Foggo, and Renee Ming. No response was given.
But a spokesman for the Fire Service Association yesterday dismissed those remarks.
The spokesman pointed out that industrial action had been avoided last December after Government agreed that the Clearwater station ambulance could not be used unless at least six firefighters were on duty.
The spokesman said: “That was the agreed staffing level to safely operate the structural fire truck and the ambulance in one shift.
“But currently, the ambulance is in service when there are only four firefighters, which causes direct health and safety issues to both the public and our members.
“This was done without regard for our members and is the reason for our latest industrial action and upcoming arbitration, and a large part of the vote of no confidence.
“As to Mr Swan’s claim that we have ‘sufficient resources’ – that couldn't be further from the truth.“
According to the spokesman, former National Security Minister Renee Ming had said that the Government would only consider taking on more staff if they were Bermudian.
The spokesman said: “By our estimates, the time needed to hire and train firefighters for the airport is at least five months, hence our recommendation for hiring overseas.”