August 14, 2012
Onlookers peeved at Fire Department’s handling of blaze at Stoney Ground School

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

The fire at the elementary school — also known as the Stoney Ground Government School — broke out at about 3 p.m. and destroyed the upper floor of a two-storey wing, 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 pupil at the school, told SEARCHLIGHT from behind the police cordon.

“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 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 put out the fire.

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

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

Only two persons were seen wearing fire-fighting gear, as cops from the Special Service Unit (SSU), wearing their camouflage uniform, helped to put out the fire.

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 out in protective gear and another — in SSU uniform — wore a fire fighter’s hard hat, 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 it 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 hydrants 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 had been checked.

Meanwhile, 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 had 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.

The school’s headteacher Maureen 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 Emergency Management Organization, and Julian Francis, Minister of Works.

The cause of the fire and the full extent of the damage were not immediately known.

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