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August 10, 2012
Low pressure at hydrant hinders attempts to out fire at school

Some parents and other onlookers said Thursday afternoon that they were displeased with how the Fire Department — a unit of the Police Force — handled a blaze at the Kingstown Government School.

The fire at the elementary school — also known as the Stoney Ground Government School — destroyed the upper floor of a two-storey section, leaving only the concrete walls and a part of the roof standing.

“They [didn’t] respond good enough,” Heather Robinson, whose daughter is a Grade 5 student at the school, told SEARCHLIGHT from behind the police line.

“They are too slow in everything,” the Largo Height resident further said, as she complained about the fire trucks having to return downtown Kingstown to refill with water.

“It ain’t have anything to do with Labour or NDP,” another woman said, referring to the nation’s two main political parties.

“Me ah Labour but this is my pickney (children) them school,” the woman further said as other onlookers complained about the fire fighters’ response.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Reynold Hadaway told reporters that fire tenders had to return downtown to source water because the pressure at the nearby hydrant was too low.

“And that gave us some difficulties in terms of having the tenders on site to deal with the situation throughout.”

The Central Water and Sewerage Authority (CWSA) later installed a temporary hydrant outside the school that was used to source water to douse the blaze.

Asked if the fire tenders having to return downtown Kingstown to refill might have contributed to the extent of the damage to the structure, Hadaway said:

“There would certainly be some justification in that argument …”

Only one person was seen wearing fire-fighting gear as cops from the Special Service Unit, wearing their camouflage uniform, helped to put out the blaze.

Acting Prime Minister Girlyn Miguel – who is also Minister of Education — and other education and government officials, who arrived later, watched as the cops doused the last smoking segments of the building.

“Whenever there is a fire, we source all our resources together: SSU, RRU (Rapid Response Unit), Fire, everyone is mandated to attend to a fire. We all are fire officers,” Hadaway said, when asked about the cops without protective clothing.

“We have sourced some protective gear in recent times and that is what you are seeing the men are using as we speak now,” he said.

“… Usually, the SSU and other officers on location will not be given that type of protective gear,” he further stated.

But while one cop was fully decked in protective gear and another — in SSU uniform — wore a fire fighter’s hardhat, none of them wore any respiratory equipment.

“The men have respiratory gears but sometimes even they would brave the situation and attempt to deal with in the absence thereof. …

“No, it is not [advisable] but we try to address that all the time. But when … the adrenaline is going, people take this type of risk,” Hadaway said.

Thursday’s blaze was the second to affect a school in the nation’s capital.

A fire at a nearby business place damaged the Anglican School in downtown Kingstown earlier this year.

Hadaway said the need for hydrant near schools was “a concern and we will be working with the relevant agencies to ensure that these things are in place.

“There is one nearby … but … when we started to attend to the fire, the water pressure was extremely low so it was almost pointless using the hydrant,” he said.

He said there is a system in place where police and the CWSA examine fire hydrants.

“We check constantly,” he said.

“No. I cannot speak to it,” he said when asked when last the hydrant near the fire on Thursday was checked.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Miguel noted that the school is one of the nation’s oldest.

“… it is time for us to do some introspection, look deep within and see what needs to be done,” she told reporters, but pointed out that it was a newer section of the school that burned.

“… I am very sorry that it has to happen this way in these hard economic times. But, anyway, this is life and we have to move on. We will find a way to help our children to get back to the classroom,” she said.

The nation’s students are scheduled to return to the classroom for the new school year on September 3.

“… I am the person who will not speak alone. The Ministry of Education, we work as a team, we have to sit and deliberate as to what we are going to do. In the Ministry of Education, we are dealing with the bookwork but we have to work with BRAGSA, put our head together and see where we go from here,” Miguel said.

Asked about her government’s policy on what is done when a school is damaged during or just before the academic year, Miguel said:

“I hold on to what I tell you. What has happened here now, we did not expect it to happen. We have to sit and deliberate then we will make a proper decision.

“… Generally, when they are damaged, we have to fix them because kids have to go to school. But we work inter-ministerially,” she said and added that she could not say as yet if a shift system will be implemented.

The school’s head teacher … Brackin was also on site, but told reporters that she did not want to comment on the fire.

Among the government officials visiting the scene was Lou-Anne Gilchrist, chief education officer; Howie Prince, director of the National Emergently Management Organisation, and Julian Francis, minister of works.

The cause of the fire and the full extent of the damage were not immediately known. ([email protected])