Monday , February 26 2024

Opinion: Performance of Saba Fire Department raises many questions

Open letter to the Saba Island Council.

The ‘Unspoiled Queen’ is rapidly loosing the word ‘Unspoiled’. Why ?

Most citizens of Saba do not want their paradise been taken over by druggies, drunks and other a-social people, by terrorizing the island with their blasting music,  screaming motorbikes racing through small roads, cars with ear damaging boom boom sound which will shake your windows, barking dogs throughout the evening and night, preventing people to use their porches and forcing them to close the windows at night , roaming goats eating everything you plant etc etc.

I am convinced that most of the people of Saba expect the authorities to avoid that, e.g. by enforcing the local laws as these give them ample power to do so.

I believe that the Executive Council should have a critical look at its performance. Some departments perform exemplary. We have all noticed the performance of Public Works after the Christmas rain. In a day the rumble had disappeared from the streets.

However other departments seem to be in a deplorable state. We recently encountered a life threatening event with a fire in The Bottom. A family home burned down completely. This is tragic for the family concerned,  but the sequence of events has caused a lot of worries with the neighbors. The community has been extremely lucky in that there has been a lot of rain before the accident. This limited the damage to the single house, but in more unfavorable circumstances the damage would have been much more extensive, maybe even a large part of the Upper Town dwellings would have been lost in the fire.

Action of the responsible authorities is required immediately.

What has happened?  On January 7th,  approximately 9.25 p.m. a house fire was reported to a dispatcher. At about 9.40 p.m.the first fire truck made its way to the fire via the road to Troy Hill.

We, in the Upper Town road area, where anxious waiting for the first water to be shed on the fire. What we noticed was that the fire department positioned themselves in the smoke. No water came from the truck. A malfunctioning pump was reported.
In the meantime some water truck drivers were denied access to the road to the Upper Town area to pour water on the fire.

The police had to bring or escort the fire department to the airport to get the crash tender. This exercise took more than an hour. When the crash tender arrived and was backed up alongside ms Lizies house, the fire was done already and only some minor stuff had to be put out. Unfortunately the crash tender appeared to have technical issues as well with the result that again it took some time before they could start extinguishing what was left from the fire.

The people living in the Upper Town area, including myself, were kept at a ‘safe’ (?) distance by an officer of the Marechaussee. In fact what happened was, that the officer kept us trapped as we are living in a dead-end road.

When questioned about the progress, he constantly informed us that a truck would come to our side. That was the information he was getting by phone. No truck ever showed up on our side. As we were told later, the small truck promised,was out of service.

Summarizing, the fire went out by itself. Due to the fact that the soil, bushes and trees were very wet, the fire did not travel anywhere. In fact, the fire department had no part in the ending of this fire.  The fire department may report that they controlled the fire, but if their equipment is so poorly maintained that they could not work properly, I must conclude that they are not a position to control whatever fire.

The sequence of events raises some questions:

The functioning of the Governor

According to art. 175 of the Wolbes, the Governor, in case of a fire, has the supreme command.

Mind the text: “has the command”, not “can have” or “may be has”. He has the command.

Questions are: did the Governor execute this task and how did he execute this task ?

If the Governor did not execute this task, will the Island Council make use of article 182 of the Wolbes  and ask the Governor for some clarification ?

Responsibilities of the Executive Council

The Executive Council is responsible for the prevention, the limitation and fighting/controlling fire, the limitation of the danger of fire, the prevention and limitation of accidents at a fire and everything in connection to that, as is stated in art. 37 of the Veiligheidswet BES.

Question: What has the Executive Council done till now to fulfill this responsibility?

According to art. 39 of the Veiligheidswet BES, the Island council has to lay down rules in an ordinance about fire safety (brandbeveiligingsverordening).

Question: Does this ordinance exist?

It is critical that this ordinance comprises a detailed list of places and roads which cannot be reached resp. accessed by the current fire trucks, e.g. because of access roads being too narrow. The ordinance must describe what to do in case an incident occurs at these places. I expect that the ordinance also describes how dead-end roads will be evacuated.

According to art. 10, 11 and 12 of the Besluit brandweer BES, the island must have at least 3 separate units with respectively:

  1. a crash tender with equipment;
  2. a ‘tankautospuit’ with equipment and
  3. a ‘hulpverleningsvoertuig’ with equipment.

Question: does Saba have all three of these vehicles ? If yes, why was the third vehicle not utilized with this fire ? If not, why does Saba not have all 3 mandatory vehicles, or to put this in more general terms:

why does Saba not have an operational fire truck that can enter all public roads ?

Of course, the  Veiligheidswet BES I referred to earlier is yet again one of these laws imposed by the national Government in The Hague. However this law is not a law to annoy us, but a law that give clear directions on how our local government is supposed to take care of the security and safety of the residents. The recent incident in Upper Town area has proven that there are some serious issues in the management of the Departments concerned and the competence of the employees.

Responsibilities of the Island Council

The Island Council is supposed to monitor and correct the performance of the Executive Council and the departments they manage.  Because the above questions directly relate to the safety and security of all citizens of Saba,I hereby urge you to give and/or get answers on the above mentioned issues, using the articles 171 and 182 of the Wolbes, and to communicate your findings and actions to the citizens at your earliest convenience.

Safety and security is an important issue for all people living on Saba. You have been elected and put into power to ensure this.

Chris Meijvogel,

The Bottom, Saba.



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