An early morning fire totally gutted a two story building and damaged three others on Handyside Street in Belize City yesterday. Members of the public are up in arms because, according to them, the National Fire Service was – for lack of better words- ill equipped to handle the situation. Businessman Alberto Carpio of Nu Fenders Bar recounts the horrifying incident.
Businessman Alberto Carpio of Nu Fenders Bar:
This morning, you know, we didn’t really expect this and I heard this crackling, like something just popping up, like something like rain or something. When I come out and I observe and I look, I saw the neighbor house on fire and it is a wooden house, right? When I look, the fire was just unable to control. So, my neighbors they came around too, right, and they helped me to get out and that’s the reason how I managed to get out. Then the fire trucks came in but they came in and they had no water and they took too long. The little water that they brought they just use it on the wooden structure that was already fully engulfed with fire so that was unable to control, right. Then they could have atleast work on mine but they were too slow. The truck had no water and they took almost an hour forty-five minutes to get the water going through so my place got involved in fire too from the upstairs . Well, basically, this can’t help this tragedy and the fire start from six o’clock this morning and until now they manage to control it and extinguish it.
Reporter: Everything has been lost upstairs?
Businessman Alberto Carpio of Nu Fenders Bar: Everything has been lost upstairs .
Orin Smith, Station Officer at the National Fire Service gave us the official report this morning. Apart from exhausting their water supply, the trucks that were on the scene began experiencing mechanical failure and while it can be said that this may have led to the damage of more structures, Smith says they called for back-up.
Orin Smith, Station Officer at the National Fire Service:
On Monday October 12, 2015 at approximately 6 hundred hours, the National Fire Service received and responded to a call of a structural fire at #37 Handyside Street Belize City as the address. Two units were immediately dispatched to that location. On arrival at the scene, the upper flat of the two story wooden structure and the lower flat were seen with visible flames. Following a brief size up, the National Fire service went into operation to extinguish the fire. Efforts were made to contain the fire from spreading to adjacent structures. Eventually the two trucks had exhausted their water supply. Efforts to draw water from a nearby creek on Daly street failed when the trucks, both units, experienced mechanical failure. A third unit had to be called in on scene. There was a time lapse on scene where no fire fighting was being done as the changeover was being made. When that truck arrived on scene, the scene was eventually resupplied with water and the fire was brought under control and extinguished. As a result of the time lapse, we had four structures receiving fire damage. Number 37 Handyside Street address the two story wooden structure was completely destroyed by the fire. The upper flat of #43 Handyside Street address was damaged by the fire, gutted literally. The ridge and part of the interior roof of a # 45 and 37 on the Handyside street address received minor fire damage.
And while Orin Smith is adamant that the department did all in its capacity to bring the fire under control, it points to a bigger problem on their behalf- lack of newer, up to date fire trucks. From what we were told, some fire trucks are over 15 years old, the oldest being well over 40 years at a station in the south.
Ted Smith, Acting Fire Chief at the National Fire Service:
The fire department is not really faced with neglect. Yes, the fire department would want to have state of the art equipment just like every other part of the public service. Our equipment aged over time and yes, need to replace. We have put in place a plan to try and replace these equipment over time. At that fire on Gabourel Lane, contrary to your statement there , Mr. Jules Vasquez, on arrival it wasn’t a small fire. On arrival, the entire wooden structure next to Fender’s was already engulfed in flames and those footage that you talk about will reflect that because those footage were also shown to me on the scene by the public that was out there videoing. The department got there and went into operation immediately, trying to contain that fire with both trucks. Both trucks then exhaust their water and one of the trucks proceeded to the open source. On arrival at the open source, that truck malfunctioned and the truck was switched around and that other truck malfunctioned. What we are doing now is investigating; conducting an internal investigation to establish why those trucks malfunctioned. One of them we know had serious mechanical problems because some parts of the truck reflect that on the scene of the incident and that truck is presently still off the run. The other truck, the mechanic has been able to restore it and it’s back on the run and he is preparing a report to forward to the Chief, myself at this time.
And while that may be no conciliation for those affected by the fire, Smith says that five adjacent structures were saved regardless of the shortfalls that day. As to the department’s morale following yesterday’s blunders and shortfall, Smith says it constantly reviews its performance and will never be truly satisfied.
Ted Smith, Acting Fire Chief at the National Fire Service: Fire at Fender’s; we would have hoped to always perform much better. That is who we are. We are firefighters. We are seldom satisfied with our performance. We always want to do the best we can and to do better each time. Imediately after that fire we came back and we did a critique and we analyzed what the situation was, what was our reaction, what were the challenges that we faced and how we can overcome these challenges for the next time. Yes, we are very ambitious in the work we do. Our firefighters take their responsibility very seriously and we are conscious of the risk involved in our responsibility and the challenges. WE do the best we can each time. We would love to have a number of things better so that we can perform better but this is what we have and this is who we are and we will continue to do the best we can with the available resource we have and the challenges that face us each time.