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Address by Prime Minister Dr. Kenny D. Anthony Marking the Formal Opening of The Vieux-Fort Fire Station

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NO ROOM FOR UNEQUAL ACCESS TO FIRE SERVICES
 

DECENTRALIZATION OF SERVICES

It is with a great sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and pride that I address you today on the occasion of the formal opening of the Vieux Fort fire station. As we all know, fire can be a double-edged sword. Because of its many uses in daily life it is an indispensable tool to human existence. However, fire can be a deadly tool. Throughout history there are countless examples of fire destroying lives, property and indeed, entire cities. We know too that fire is used as a weapon of war and violence. This is precisely why a whole new science has developed around the management and prevention of fires.

The risk posed to our society by accidental fires and acts of arson are real. When these accidents and acts of arson occur, our various communities must be equipped to protect the lives and property of persons who can easily fall victim to the devastation that fires can unleash.

It is no wonder that as our society grows and develops the demand for these services intensify. The growing complexity of the society will, invariably, give rise to a growth in expectations and a correspondent increase in the demand for better and decentralized services.

Government, therefore, has a responsibility to respond in an effective manner to the demands for better and decentralized services. The truth is, we cannot continue to treat our coastal communities as if they exist on the fringes or the outposts of development. We must bring development to them. The protection of life and property demand that we respond to the needs of all our citizens in a timely and reliable manner. Not only must we strive to be more responsive to their needs but we must also endeavour to improve the quality and delivery of the services provided. Under this Government there is no room for unbalanced or unequal development.

The days have long past when the residents of our towns and villages had to wait for hours when in distress. The length of time it takes for one in distress to access essential services can make a difference between life and death. The provision of adequate services to the major population centres has to be a national priority.

In keeping with the overall goal of providing efficient and quality service to all Saint Lucians, irrespective of their place of residence, the Government has undertaken to construct a number of new fire stations island wide. Gros-Islet and Dennery Fire Stations have been commissioned. Today, it is the turn of the residents of Vieux-Fort and its immediate environs to celebrate the completion of this new facility.

A LONG HISTORY OF SERVICE

Today too, I salute our fire service. The fire service in Saint Lucia has had a long, distinguished and proud record of service. Our firemen have long exhibited a great level of professionalism in the execution of their duties. They work long hours and make great personal sacrifices to ensure that they protect life and property. Our Fire Service continues to perform with commendable distinction. The successes that our fire services have enjoyed are a great credit to the fire authorities, and the dedicated and committed men and women who have chosen firefighting as a vocation.

We are also aware however, that if they are to continue to deliver quality service to our various communities, we must also invest resources in providing the necessary equipment and an enabling environment to allow them to do so. This Station is an eloquent statement of this Governmentís commitment.

INVESTMENT IN PUBLIC SERVICES

Despite the achievements of the fire services over the years, there can be no room for complacency. Their task will only become more difficult with the passage of time and as greater demands are placed on them by a population whose expectations are forever on the rise. The fire service must however, build on its past successes. But it is our responsibility to help it do so. Whereas it is the publicís right to demand high quality public services, the public must also be aware that the provision of high quality public services comes at a price. It would be foolhardy of us to expect the delivery of quality services without being prepared to make the required long-term investment.

New investments in the provision of public services are a necessary pre-condition for improvement and modernization of the essential services. The achievement of significant improvements in performance call for new methods of organizing and delivering services. This is true of all other public services as it is for the fire services.

THE CHANGING ROLE OF THE FIRE SERVICE

As a society we are increasingly aware that the role of the fire service is changing, significantly. There is greater emphasis being placed by the various fire departments on working with the communities to reduce fire risks. But increasingly the role of the fire services is expanding far beyond the traditional role of responding to fires. The functions of the fire services have evolved to incorporate dealing with road traffic accidents and even environmental protection.

Let me explain. Year after year, fire personnel are called to contain fires which consume trees, grass and foliage. These fires are damaging to our sensitive ecology, and wreck havoc to our plant life. I hope that the day will come when stiff penalties are introduced to punish those who deliberately set fire to those areas. We cannot afford the routine and deliberate destruction to our surrounding.

As with all other public services, we can expect that the challenges facing the fire service will continue to evolve. Consequently, it is critical that those involved in fire prevention and protection understand these changes and devise appropriate measures for dealing with them. It means therefore that the fire services must remain receptive to change and committed to developing and improving the services provided to the public that they serve.

Increasingly, as new demands are placed on the fire service, there will also be a need to increase both capacity and the energy to enable it to contribute to the benefit of the community. Whereas, the investments in this new facility are significant, it is not expected that it will solve all the resource needs of the fire service in Vieux Fort. However, it is a first step in helping the Vieux Fort fire department work more efficiently and deliver better quality service to the residents.

A SOUTHERN DIVISIONAL HEADQUARTERS

This station is unique in that it will serve as the Southern Divisional Headquarters of the Saint Lucia Fire Service. It is intended to specifically serve the communities of Choieseul, Laborie and Vieux Fort. It is for this reason that it has been placed in this strategic location and with the new Vieux Fort to Soufriere highway, it is within the reach of every community within the Southern belt.

This Southern Divisional facility was built and furnished at a total cost of EC $2.2 million. A second major objective of this Government is that of institutional strengthening and capacity building. It is within this context, therefore, that we present a well equipped facility with appropriate staffing. About one and half weeks ago twenty-nine (29) recruits graduated from the training school. Seventeen (17) have been assigned to the facility. It is anticipated therefore, that the communities spanning from Praslin and Micoud in the East, Vieux Fort in the South, Laborie, Choiseul, Soufriere, and Canaries in the West will benefit from the quality service which this Headquarters has to offer.

A total of twenty-eight (28) officers will be assigned here. It is to be noted that the old training grounds at Beane Field has to be relocated due to the expansion plans of Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA). This has therefore provided the opportunity to consider a Training Complex for the paramilitary services within the island. It is envisaged that in the long term the facility will provide training for the Police Service, the Fire Service, the Air and Sea Ports Police and Private Security Services needing specialized training.

It is important to indicate that this compound will have an engineering unit comprising of two (2) officers charged with the responsibility for servicing the eighteen (18) fire units and other equipment assigned to the Southern Region. I understand that a Fireman who was provided with a scholarship in Cuba has recently graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and I hope he will form part of the Engineering team in the South.

This Southern Divisional Headquarters is also strategically placed and timely in the provision of quality services to an expanding tourist industry. The recent opening of the Coconut Bay Resort, in addition to the imminent construction of the Paradis Hotel and Resort in Praslin and the Sapphire Cove Resort in Laborie will present the Southern Headquarters with new challenges which I am sure they are eager to embrace.

COMMUNITY OWNERSHIP

This newly constructed facility in Vieux-Fort belongs to the entire community. Let it serve as a watchtower. It is my hope that this new facility will serve to greatly increase the sense of security and safety that the residents of Vieux-Fort and its environs feel. But the provision of a new facility in itself does not change mindset or attitudes. If the officers who will come to occupy this facility carry with them old attitudes about the provision of service then it is unlikely that a marked improvement in the quality of service will result.

However, fire prevention is not simply the task of the fire officers. It is a responsibility shared by the entire community. We must all work together to respond to the new and emerging challenges of fire safety and other accidents and incidents.

There is need for the forging of partnerships between the community and the service providers. It is only through the creation of such strategic partnerships that we will be able to maintain and improve the quality of service provided to members of the community. There is broad agreement among all concerned that there is a need to place greater emphasis on fire prevention. There is also broad agreement that the safety of the residents is a necessary priority. If that is indeed the case then there must be a willingness to work together to ensure that goal of reducing the incidence of fire and providing greater security to homeowners, business and citizens.

AVOIDING THE CULTURE OF BLAME

As we endeavour to modernize and improve the quality of services provided to the community of Vieux Fort, it is imperative that a culture of suspicion and blame do not develop as it is counter productive to the provision of quality services. It is important that a level of trust develop between the community and the officers charged with delivering this service. We all want a first class service to the public. We all accept that if this is going to be achieved we need to recruit, retain and motivate fire service staff. Through the construction of this new facility we have taken a step to emphasize our commitment to better equip the Saint Lucia Fire Service to better serve our communities.

I therefore want to urge the fire officers who shall be the custodians of this facility to utilize it to the benefit of the entire Vieux Fort community. Protect and maintain this new infrastructure so as to ensure that it does not fall into disrepair. That is the only way to ensure that it continues to serve the community of Vieux Fort way into the future.

I thank you.
 

 

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