Dare we take these fires seriously?

Right now we are pretty much in the dry season. The word of caution to people is to stop the burning. People are still burning rubbish and grass around their lots, and these can get out of control, and then we have a problem. So just stop all the burning.
–– Chief Fire Officer Wilfred Marshall.


Our fire chief, like those before him, was merely making the critical point that Barbadians must desist from burning garbage at their residences, as it was “a prime method” of how some grass fires –– and other kinds –– were started. Clearly, Barbados Fire Service investigations would have indicated this, and it would thus be a caution to respect and take most seriously.

Alas, it would appear, such expectancy would be to no avail, for the greater part. To many Barbadians, fires are a spectacle to behold, to rush to, and to afford an opportunity for the Kodak moment –– or the case for another selfie. Fiery red flames and billowing black smoke emanating from the canefields or our grasslands are excitable and make for a feverish thrill.

Such an obssession with fires is born out of an inane type of curiosity sure to kill more than the cat, and which is bred in the circumstance of a perceived immunity to personal danger and an unconcern for the peril to others –– all surely a disavowal of common sense. Which brings us back to Barbadians’ apathy towards setting garbage fires at home and putting themselves and neighbours at risk.

Their indifference could not have been more evident than in the recent case of a disaster emergency drill at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Many visiting or doing general business were infuriated by the “disruption” or delay in carrying out their wishes. Too many of us turn up our noses at fire and other disaster drills at public places.

And those who might cooperate demand as a right advance notice. It’s anybody’s guess what great benefit may come from an emergency disaster drill of which we have foreknowledge. Drills are to give us experience in the possibilities of emergency execution and to identify where faults and shortcomings lie for their correction.

This very bad Bajan habit of insouciance must be broken.

It cannot be forgotten how one afternoon a fire had broken out at a place where there were stored chemicals, and that the word initially was that there might been containers of chlorine where the blaze was –– a distinct possibility of a hazard material (HazMat) conflagration, with its combustive explosions and deadly toxic smoke. Yet curious onlookers would converge on the scene, and later when the blaze threatened even more, potential victims would refuse being evacuated.

What does it say about our grasp of the seriousness of emergencies and our intelligence in the face of danger, when said Fire Chief Wilfred Marshall had to lament the “challenges with persons in the immediate area [of the Sewage Treatment Plant] who refused to move” when a fire too broke out there some time back? What indeed does it say when the police have to virtually intimidate members of the public into following the instructions of authorities in emergency situations?

But ordinary Barbadians are not alone in this annoying indifference. So are the Government and, in particular, the architects of the once much touted Bridgetown Emergency Traffic Management Plan. We ask again: what has become of it? Was it still-born in 2008.

Up to yesterday the fires for 2014 were headed towards 1,700, about 100 more than for the same period last year. It ought to be disconcerting; but we fear that added to the apathy might have been, unwittingly, an excess sense of security in fire chief Marshall’s humble boast that “under present circumstances” his department was adequately stocked with vehicles and manpower –– this after having to deal with some
14 fires alone yesterday.

The Fire Service has 20 plus vehicles across its stations, manned by some 215 firefighters –– the numbers of which and whom Chief Fire Officer Marshall has declared satisfaction –– until, God forbid, the fires double, if we as a people are not able to rid ourselves of this insensitivity towards the perils of mass fires.

Do we dare?

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