How an intern triggered a precious gift from Japan to Jamaica

How an intern triggered a precious gift from Japan to Jamaica

14 May 2017

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Japan / Jamaica –   JUNCTION, St Elizabeth — Chairman of the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation Derrick Sangster has a picture in his mind of Japanese intern Shingo Oba for an unlikely reason.According to Sangster, who is also mayor of Black River, his sharpest memory of Oba, who volunteered his services in St Elizabeth in 2014-16, was of a man “who hardly spoke”.

However, during his two years assigned to the disaster preparedness office at the municipal corporation in Black River, Oba — a practising fireman in Japan — didn’t need many words to make a big difference.

Seeing first-hand the catastrophic consequences of bush fires during a period of prolonged droughts, especially in arid southern St Elizabeth, Oba initiated a project for which he will be long remembered.

In collaboration with the Disaster Preparedness Coordinator in St Elizabeth Claudine Forbes and the St Elizabeth Fire Department, Oba developed a plan which has borne fruit with the donation by Japan of three fire-fighting trucks and a water tanker to the St Elizabeth Fire Department.

At the formal handover of the four trucks at the Junction Fire Station in south St Elizabeth on Friday, Sangster hailed Oba, claiming the delivery of the trucks “speaks volumes to his initiative and contribution to the people of Jamaica”.

Sangster wasn’t the only one heaping praise on the Japanese fireman. Japan’s Ambassador to Jamaica Masanori Nakano, who formally presented fire truck keys to Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie, hailed the former volunteer for working “assiduously with the fire brigade offices to help bring the project from its incubation stage right to the signing ceremony”.

Forbes, who played a supervisory role in the writing of the project, paid tribute to Oba as one “who did his work diligently”. She later told the Jamaica Observer that the intern did considerable work in disaster preparedness, creating hazard maps and making educational presentations at schools.

Described by Nakano as a “knowledgeable and experienced” fireman, Oba also conducted training at the St Elizabeth fire department and created a fire-fighting manual for neighbouring Westmoreland.

As explained by Nakano, the four second-hand fire trucks came as part of the Government of Japan’s Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects through which benefits flow to Jamaica and many other countries. Alongside the vehicles came a donation of US$79,276 (just under $10 million) which facilitated retrofitting of the vehicles and transportation to Jamaica.

“It is our hope that our contribution will make your communities in St Elizabeth a safer place for people to live with more ease and comfort, knowing that emergency vehicular resources are within easy reach,” said Nakano.

Acting Commissioner of Fire Raymond Spencer said the trucks will serve not just St Elizabeth, but will also assist Manchester and Westmoreland in times of need.

McKenzie urged fire personnel and the people of St Elizabeth to treat the donated vehicles “as if your lives depend on it”.

The minister praised Japan for its continuing programme of practical assistance to Jamaica, noting that earlier this year the National Solid Waste Management Authority received “two brand-new tipper trucks” from Japan for the collection and disposal of garbage.

Several speakers at the function spoke of the danger posed by the practice of many farmers in St Elizabeth and elsewhere to use fire as a means of clearing land — a method popularly referred to as slash and burn. They said many, if not most bush fires in St Elizabeth, especially in the typically dry southern half, were triggered by slash and burn.

According to Sangster, over the past five years the St Elizabeth fire department has recorded 2,256 bush fires across the parish.

“Be extremely careful and find other means (other than the use of fire) of preparing your land for farming,” Sangster told farmers.

Acting Commissioner of Fire Raymond Spencer told the Sunday Observer he was hopeful that long-awaited amendments to Jamaica’s fire laws will allow meaningful punishment for people found to have caused bush fires.

He noted that based on “what is provided in the law, we (fire fighters) will bark but we can’t bite”. As the situation now stands, a person found guilty of setting a bush fire is liable to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or a prison term not exceeding three months, a fire department source told the Sunday Observer.

Fire chief in St Elizabeth, Deputy Superintendent Conroy Ghans, said the arrival of the four trucks will make a “significant” difference to fire and emergency relief. Prior to their arrival there were three trucks — one each assigned to Black River, Santa Cruz and Junction.

He will now be able to assign an additional fire truck to each of the stations, he said, adding that the water tanker will go to Santa Cruz because of that town’s “strategic” location at the centre of St Elizabeth with access to the mountainous north as well as the southern plains.

Ghans conceded that all his problems were not solved. There were still serious material and personnel shortages confronting the St Elizabeth Fire Department. “[However] our response capabilities have improved significantly,” he said.

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