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Firefighters fear stations could close

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A Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service truck (File Photograph)

Lives could be put at risk if two fire stations close due to resources being focused on LF Wade International Airport, emergency workers have warned the Government.

A letter from the Bermuda Fire Service Association to Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, has expressed grave concerns about the use of budget allocations to the service.

The BFSA and the Government held talks yesterday to consider the matter.

A BFSA spokesman told The Royal Gazette: “The meeting went all right. We are going to have to hold talks with our members to discuss things and then get back to the Government.

“Hopefully, something will happen Friday – one way or another.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of National Security said last night: “The public should be assured that if they call the emergency services that they will get a response.

“The minister has met with the Fire Service Association and is in ongoing discussions in respect of their letter and we will be issuing a joint press statement on this matter tomorrow.”

The warning letter that proceeded the meeting, seen by The Royal Gazette and dated March 22, paints a stark scenario of the impact for the rest of the island of focusing resources on the airport.

The letter refers to a meeting on March 15 at which the association states that Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service senior managers told staff about the changes that would come into force on April 1, making the Airport Operations Department “the focus of the 2023-2024 budget allocation for the BFRS”.

The BFSA also stated that the halting of “acting up” of officers to the level of sergeants meant there would not be enough senior staff to keep all three fire stations open.

Coupled with the ending of operational overtime and reassigning posts to the airport division, this would mean delays in call-out times of up to one hour with services centralised in Hamilton, leaving the East and West of the island without dedicated coverage, said the BFSA.

The letter stated that the impact would mean: “Potential loss of life and property.

“The inability to recall staff to cover shortages and limiting acting-up will cause up to two stations to close.

“This will result in the centralisation of resources and remaining personnel will report to Hamilton Station.

“Residents and businesses in the East and/or West will be left without dedicated fire and rescue coverage or ambulance coverage in the East as BFRS operate the eastern ambulance. They will have to depend on response from Hamilton.

“Response times will likely increase on average to about ten to 15 minutes to about 15 to 30 minutes.

“In instances when the Hamilton Station may be engaged, then response times will increase further, some to about 60 minutes.”

The letter stated that other impacts would include “decreased morale throughout sections of the BFRS and increased stress on dispatchers as they navigate deploying the now limited resources.”

Michael Weeks, Minister of National Security (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Michael Dunkley, the One Bermuda Alliance Shadow Minister of National Security, warned the situation could cause loss of life.

Mr Dunkley, a former volunteer firefighter, said: “I am very concerned about this as lives will be put at risk.

“Station closures, increased waiting times, it is unfathomable that the Government took such a decision – and in the four hours and 45 minutes of the Budget debate they did not touch on this subject at all.

“This has consequences because a fire truck can do everything an ambulance can except ferry people to hospital.

“This is an unacceptable situation and the Government needs to explain itself.”

In February’s Budget, $14,880,000 was allocated to fire protection services, an increase of $1,668,000, or 13 per cent, on the original estimate for the previous year.

However, the total spend during 2022-2023 had to be revised upwards to $17,037,000.

Mr Weeks sought a total supplemental budget of $4.25 million in March of which $3.2 million was needed for the fire service to bolster its airport service.

Under the new legislation announced by Mr Weeks in February, Bermuda’s National Fire Protection Agency Codes currently in force at the airport will be replaced with the UK Air Navigation (Overseas Territories) Orders along with Overseas Territories Aviation Requirements.

Until last year, the accepted minimum duty strength at LF Wade International Airport required three crews of five firefighters, enabling it to provide a response category rating of 9.

But an audit last February increased the minimum required duty strength from five firefighters per crew to 14 to maintain that category.

The changes came after extra firefighters had to be brought to the island from Canada last summer to keep numbers up to requirements.

Mr Weeks said that 11 new local firefighters had been taken on. Ten of them are in the UK for training.

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Published March 30, 2023 at 9:31 am (Updated March 30, 2023 at 6:57 pm)

Firefighters fear stations could close

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