SLBGA Fire raises questions about abandoned building

“Leh bab kamawad ou pwee difay, wouzay sa ou,” is a creole phrase which means when your friend’s beard is on fire, douse yours with water, a precautionary warning of sorts which for California residents in fire prone areas would directly mean wet down your own house when a fire is approaching.

Of course if all else fails, leave. Sunday’s late night fire that set ablaze the dilapidated Saint Lucia Banana Growers Association (SLBGA) building in Castries brought that saying to mind as well as another one of those promises by a politician which, with all its good intentions never saw the light of day. Guy Mayers as Minister responsible for national security under the last administration had promised to rid the city and environs of derelict buildings and houses which according to him was being used by criminals to conduct their illicit deeds and to harbor illegal drugs and some of their mounting arsenal. Not to mention the fact, that these buildings were also being used for more than a few city crack-heads for smoking their stuff and getting a fix of another kind with their choice felines who claim that during the day its “zobie, zobie” but at nights its “baby, baby.” Even the former fire chief had concurred that these buildings posed an imminent threat, after more than a few had been accidentally set ablaze by some of the street dwellers. And so as I said, another day, another promise and things remained the same.

But Sunday’s fire also brought as glaring as the blazing inferno, the whole question of preparedness, particularly when it comes to public buildings and structures in handling such fires. Remember 9-9-9, that St. Judes fire which claimed several lives and gutted the only “fit for humans” medical facility outside of Castries? But my curiosity about preparedness on Sunday was towards SLASPA. After all, this agency is responsible for all major air and sea-ports here in Saint Lucia and keeping them safe, secure and running efficiently. Two hours into Sunday’s fire I witnessed no personnel from SLASPA management around, this after the news had already broke on Facebook and BB broadcast and quite a large crowd had gathered in the vicinity.

Certainly, nowhere to be seen was the General Manager Sean Matthews, who lately has been quite evasive where the media is concerned leaving questions for a marketing department to entertain. The building which was on fire mind you is right next to the SLASPA building on Manoel Street in Castries. In fact, sources say that SLASPA was seeking to acquire the property as part of the Castries port redevelopment project which would span Banane’s bay to the old fire station on Jeremie Street.

On Sunday night as firefighters fought the flames at the old SLBGA building, security personnel at the SLASPA and a ports police, recognizing the danger posed to their building by the nearby blaze sought to haul their own fire hoses out perchance to either assist the firemen or douse their own building with water. Alas, try as they did they could not get any water flowing from their own internal water system through the hoses. And so the two white hoses that they had hauled outside the building lay there lifeless like two one hundred year old phalluses that not even Viagra could revive.

It was just this past July that the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority unveiled a new enhancement to the fire service operations at Hewannora airport. The facility comprised a new fire appliance and amenities to house both male and female firefighters. SLASPA also engages its staff at all ports in regular safety drills and according to Dorna Regis who spoke to the Star whilst on vacation Monday, it was only two months ago that SLASPA had conducted its own fire drill. “We are thankful that this did not happen during regular working hours as I am sure we would have had to evacuate our building,” Regis says.

“Whilst the building where the fire occurred does not belong to SLASPA we recognize the concerns persons may have had and we are happy to report that our operations were not affected and that business at the ports is at normal,” she added. On Monday morning when this reporter visited SLASPA I was told by that the management team was heading into a “crisis management meeting.” This, after a less than courteous “no,” by the secretary the General Manager, after we requested an interview with him, directing us to the marketing department. Since then no one has been able to tell us why the fire appliances at SLASPA failed and what contingencies were in place had the fire spread to that building.

Regis upon her return to work Tuesday did confirm that some “difficulties” were experienced in getting water through their fire hose reel on Sunday. The fire which forced the postponement of a commission of inquiry into the fire service which was supposed to begin on Monday, is still under investigation. SLASPA for its part is said to be working with the chief engineer and providing support where it can to the fire service.

The Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority is responsible for running the island’s two principal seaports, Castries and Vieux Fort and the George FL Charles and Hewannora International airports as well as smaller points of entry at Soufriere, Marigot Bay and the Rodney Bay Marina.

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