Firefighters feeling heat

Firefighters feeling heat

12 May 2015

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Trinidad and Tobago — President of the T&T Fire Service Association Leo Ramkissoon yesterday warned citizens to do all they could to clear their properties of any debris which may facilitate the spread of wildfires.

He made the comment as he said T&T was experiencing one of its worst dry seasons and the service, on average, has been dealing with as many as 100 wildfires a day. He said the harsh season had led to an increase in wildfires across the country and on Saturday alone they received 173 calls from the Northern Division.

“There were some fires over the weekend and a couple of houses were destroyed. Saturday alone there were 113 bush fire calls in the night and 40 calls during the day from the Northern Division,” he added.

The Northern Division extends from Sangre Grande to Chaguaramas with 11 fire stations in the division.

Ramkissoon said Saturday was only one of many busy days the service had been having since the dry season began.

Belmont resident Salimon Jaggernauth’s Layan Hill home was one of two destroyed after a bush fire ravaged the area on Saturday. However, Jaggernauth blamed the slow response of the firefighters for her loss, saying they took more than an hour to get to their home because a fire tender was reportedly sent from Chaguanas.

Yesterday, Ramkissoon said while the Fire Service aims to protect life and property as a priority, many of the officers were not able to respond to every call immediately.

“Life and property come first. If there is a structural fire it would take priority unless there is a bush fire that is threatening property.

“The most dangerous situations are properties that are not cleaned properly and have a lot of overgrown shrubbery in the yard,” Ramkissoon said.

He said the bush fires on the hills proved to be particularly problematic because fire trucks could not reach parts of the hills. He said they were better able to deal with fires in built-up and settlement areas as the fire trucks could access fires more easily.

“The officers are pressed with a formidable problem. Daily the Fire Service is inundated with calls. The lack of equipment and working trucks also add to the delay in our response time,” he said.

Ramkissoon advised the public to be vigilant and report any fires as soon as possible, adding they should also seek to acquire fire-fighting devices like a fire extinguisher.

Stiffer fines needed

Papa Bois Conservation director Stephen Broadbridge also yesterday called for the continuation of the moratorium on hunting due to the extreme damage to the wildlife which has been caused by the frequent “bush fires” this dry season.

“They should leave the hunting ban because of the destruction of the natural habitats that is going on because of the fires. These fires are causing a serious reduction on the wildlife and raising the moratorium will just add to the depletion,” Broadbridge said.

The current moratorium on hunting is set to expire in October.

Broadbridge said if the moratorium was raised there would be a continuous reduction of the nation’s wildlife until it becomes fully depleted. He added that the fires were also going to have a negative result on T&T’s tourism and the aquatic ecosystem.

He said the burning of the forest would also cause flooding and landslides during the forthcoming rainy season since there would be a lot of loose soil that would get washed away. These landslips, he said, would also damage the ecosystem of many aquatic animals.

Broadbridge also demanded that harsher penalties be implemented for slash-and-burn practices and that farmers be prohibited from planting their crops on land that had been cleared by fires.

Describing the practice of slash-and-burn as arson, he said there should be a 20-year jail sentence for setting a wildfire.

“When you burn the forest you are destroying millions of dollars. That should count for a large sentence,” Broadbridge said.

He called on the authorities to start “taking bush fires seriously” so that the practice of setting fires were diminished.

Minister of the Environment and Water Resource Ganga Singh also called on the public to stop indiscriminately setting fires. He said all fires should be reported immediately to the hotline 877-FIRE (3473)

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