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Weeks rules out closing fire stations

Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service (File photograph)

No plans are in place to close any fire stations, the Minister of National Security insisted yesterday.

Michael Weeks added that help would arrive “quickly and efficiently” if emergency services are called.

His comments came after a letter from the Bermuda Fire Service Association raised concerns about the use of budget allocations.

The warning, dated March 22, highlighted the potential impact across the island if resources were focused on the airport.

It claimed that being unable to recall staff to cover shortages and limiting the “acting up” of officers would “cause up to two stations to close”.

In a statement yesterday afternoon, Mr Weeks said: “I wish the public to know that there are no plans to close any fire station.”

He added: “The ministry is committed to delivering the highest level of emergency services to our residents.

“We are proud of the standards of service that our first responders provide and the long history of reliable and effective response times.

“The fire service mobilises within two minutes of any call, and arrives at any location on the island within 15 minutes.”

Mr Weeks explained: “The Ministry of National Security and the Fire Service Association have had ongoing discussions to ensure that we continue to meet those response times.

“A general membership meeting of the Fire Service Association is scheduled for this evening and, as agreed, a joint statement will be issued after that meeting.

“I want to stress to the people of Bermuda that if you call our emergency services, help will arrive quickly and efficiently.

“We will continue to ensure our fire service is run safely, effectively, efficiently and meeting our response times remain a priority.

“We continue to work together to keep you safe.”

The BFSA and the Government also held talks yesterday after the warning letter, which was seen by The Royal Gazette.

The letter referred to a meeting on March 15, when the association said that Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service senior managers had told staff about 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 an 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.”

In February’s Budget, $14.88 million was allocated to fire protection services, an increase of $1.67 million or 13 per cent, on the original estimate for the previous year.

However, the total spend during 2022-23 had to be revised upwards to $17.04 million.

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 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 L F 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.

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Published March 31, 2023 at 7:55 am (Updated March 31, 2023 at 7:59 am)

Weeks rules out closing fire stations

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