A photo of sleeping bunks in the Appliance Bay at the Crown Point Police Station.

Fire Officers in Tobago say the overcrowding situation at the Crown Point Fire Station is now becoming untenable and they are becoming fearful for their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officers from Scarborough Fire Station were relocated following a fire on April 14, 2019, but to date the building has not been refurbished. In the interim, the officers were relocated to the Crown Point Fire Station, a stone’s throw away from the ANR Robinson International Airport.

Guardian Media understands the station can accommodate 17 to 20 officers but approximately 40 officers are being housed in the location at this time.

An affected officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said their health and safety was at risk

“We need our own station. We need them to hear our cry. It’s one year now that we are housed at Crown Point and we are uncomfortable, we are frustrated, we are scared, especially with COVID-19 out now. If one firefighter comes down with this virus everyone will be in problems. We have families too, we are afraid to catch this pandemic,” the firefighter said.

The officers said they are forced to rest in makeshift areas when they are not on active duty, which is another challenge.

“It has reached the point where some of us have moved the bunks from areas meant for storage and put them in the holding bay for vehicles because it is extremely hot, humid and not conducive for occupation. We had to move into the appliance room in the open area because it is uninhabitable,” the source said.

Contacted for a comment on the issue, Fire Service Association president Leo Ramkissoon confirmed the situation. He said with the advent of COVID-19 the social distancing protocol was being disregarded

“We have been clamouring for some time for the officers to be relocated on a temporary basis while repairs to the Scarborough Station are ongoing. We went as far as identifying the viable locations that would facilitate the officers in the short run, in the interest of the population as well as the health and safety of the officers,” Ramkissoon told Tobago Today.

“What we have been seeing is that the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago is, as far as the information we have received, has been delaying in terms of ratifying or finalising approvals for those arrangements to take place.”

He also called on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to intervene in the interest of Tobagonians.

“We are asking, is the value to the lives and property of the people of Tobago and the value of the fire officers that operate from Tobago, are their lives not worthy enough for the state to make arrangements for them to be housed at a more appropriate location?”

However, Ramkissoon said Minister of National Security Stuart Young is aware of the situation and has been working assiduously to have the matter resolved. He said before the COVID-19 pandemic, the FSA wrote letters agreeing to a temporary location at the former Old Grange Police Station in Carnbee but that suggestion is yet to be approved.

“The situation is really untenable as is because the officers are at a very serious risk. Even without the COVID situation, we have raised several health and safety breaches that warrant the intervention of the OSH agency to really guide the administration in terms of the poor health practices that are taking place with the overcrowding,” Ramkissoon said.

“We have female officers who have very little amenities to be able to relieve themselves. We have very unacceptable conditions that officers are operating from in the Crown Point Station and I mean this thing needs to be resolved, so we are really demanding at this time, that it be dealt with some manner of urgency” he said.

Ramkissoon said after the Scarborough Fire Station was closed in 2019 there was an increase in the number of house fires in the Scarborough district. He said before the relocation there was a three to five minute response time to trouble calls but that time has increased to 15 to 20 because of the Crown Point dispatch. He also renewed the call for proper Personal Protective Equipment to be issued to firefighters, adding the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service is being neglected

“Generally, we need the fire service to be taken much more seriously in terms of preparations for COVID-19, as well as preparations for emergency responses to the public on the whole. We think that it’s not sufficient, the prioritisation that is placed on the fire service and better needs to be done.”

“We ought not to wait until the Fire Service have been called out because of some massive emergency before we act. Let us make sure the Fire Service is in a state of readiness at all times. The Fire Service seems to be totally neglected at this time and we need better to be done.”