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National security minister Weeks backs fire service chief

Feeling the heat: Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security (File photograph)

The Minister of National Security has thrown his support behind chief fire officer Lloyd Burchall despite firefighters passing a vote of no confidence in the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service’s commander.

A statement issued on behalf of Michael Weeks on Thursday night said: “The management of the Fire Service enjoys the full support of the Minister of National Security as they work tirelessly to respond effectively and timely to the emergency calls from the public”

The statement was the first public comment on behalf of Mr Weeks since he took up the ministerial post almost three weeks ago.

Firefighters have expressed concern at a lack of funding, manpower and upgraded equipment for several years.

The dispute flared up in November when firefighters at the Clearwater station in St David’s were instructed to operate both the station’s fire truck and ambulance with a crew of just four.

The Fire Service Association, which represents rank and file members of the BFRS, said that a team of six firefighters need to be on duty in order to man both vehicles safely.

That dispute, which took place when Renée Ming was the national security minister, was resolved in favour of the FSA before it went to arbitration.

But according to the FSA, the ministry backtracked after Ms Ming was sacked as minister at the end of last month. As a result, the FSA issued a second 21-day notice of industrial action and also passed a vote of no confidence in Mr Burchall.

The matter has now been sent to arbitration.

The statement issued by the ministry said: “The Ministry of National Security can confirm that discussions have taken place over the last two weeks with relevant stakeholders about manning in the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service.

“In light of the formal declaration of a dispute between the management of the BFRS and the executive of the Bermuda Fire Service Association, the ministry cannot comment on the matters that have been referred to arbitration.

“What can be said is that the management of the Fire Service enjoys the full support of the Minister of National Security as they work tirelessly to respond effectively and timely to the emergency calls from the public.

“The public can be assured that emergency calls will continue to be answered and responded to anywhere on the island.”

Despite a lack of support from Mr Weeks, the FSA has said it is confident the dispute will be resolved in its favour by an arbitration panel.

A spokesman said: “The ambulance operation has been restored as of April 4. However, that directive from the chief fire officer was directly against a settlement agreement that was reached with the Fire Service Association on December 13, 2021 which resulted from a 21-day notice of industrial action from November 12, 2021.

“The agreement, which was reached to avoid arbitration, was that the ambulance would not be in service if there were less than six firefighters at the Clearwater station, which was the agreed staffing level to safely operate the structural fire truck and the ambulance in one shift.

“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.”

Claiming that the agreement reached in December over staffing levels at Clearwater was “abruptly violated without notice” after Ms Ming was sacked, the spokesman added: “In light of all this, the ambulance operation is in jeopardy once we hit arbitration and it is deemed that we are undermanned as it pertains to our health and safety.

“We are confident that will be the outcome as it has been previously agreed by the chief and management team in minuted meetings.”

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Published April 23, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated April 23, 2022 at 8:20 am)

National security minister Weeks backs fire service chief

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