International Firefighters’ Day is observed on May 4 annually. It was first instituted on January 4th, 1999 due to the death of five (5) firefighters in tragic circumstances in a bushfire in Australia.
On December 2, 1998, a tragic event shook the Linton Community, Australia, and the entire world. Firefighters in Linton, Australia, a populated region in Victoria, were fighting a large bush fire and called for mutual aid. This urgent mutual aid call brought the Geelong West Fire Brigade to the scene, not knowing the despair and tragedy that was in store. Garry Vredeveldt, Chris Evans, Stuart Davidson, Jason Thomas, and Matthew Armstrong all loaded into their company’s truck. They were part of a strike team and were being sent to help extinguish the flames. As the five-headed into the hot zone, the wind suddenly switched direction, engulfing the truck in flames and killing all five members. This unfortunate incident is what inspired JJ Edmondson to bring about an international holiday, called International Firefighters’ Day, to support the lives lost and dedicated firefighters who risk their lives daily to save life and property.
This incident is by no means isolated or uncommon in the world of firefighting, in fact, prior to and after this tragic incident, firefighters across the world have made, and continue to make the ultimate sacrifice. One only needs to give thought to the 9/11 incident when scores of firefighters lost their lives in acts of bravery in their efforts to save lives. Indeed today, on International Firefighters Day, we remember and celebrate them; they sacrificed their lives to save lives and livelihoods.
Firefighters, the world over, continue to be committed to the fight against fire as we do our part to preserve our environment and our world. Can you imagine our space, our environment, our world without firefighters? Indeed, it would be a very dark and unsightly planet because fire is inevitably with us and if left unattended, would result in catastrophic and widespread destruction.
The St. Kitts-Nevis Fire & Rescue Services, of which I have the privilege to lead, forms part of the World Brotherhood of Firefighters and faces the same risks and vulnerabilities as our counterparts around the world. Our firefighters fight and battle the same flames and are exposed to the same dangers associated with firefighting. We are indeed committed to saving life and property. Fire is said to be a very good slave but a very bad master and as such my department is charged with the responsibility of mitigating and minimizing the effects of fires in our federation. Fire is fought on two fronts: Fire prevention and Fire extinguishment.
Ideally, fire is better prevented than extinguished to avert potential loss of life and property; such losses leave families bereaved, properties destroyed, and economies disrupted. Therefore, our organization has instituted a Fire Prevention Unit, ably headed by Fire Sub- Station Officer Timothy Martin, with the sole responsibility of educating the public on fire safety and fire prevention. This is achieved by Fire Prevention inspections and lectures at various establishments and institutions. This also includes practical demonstrations on the use of the fire extinguisher. We urge all, business establishments, institutions, and residential homes to invest in the procurement of a fire extinguisher or extinguishers because this seemingly simple device can save lives, limbs, properties, and economies. Another fire prevention component is our annual summer safety program, which targets and equips children at the elementary school level with fire prevention and lifesaving skills, thus reducing fires, particularly, house fires. Studies have shown that 70% of residential fires are started by children of this age range. Locally, statistics have indicated that there has been a significant reduction in this respect since the inception of this program over twenty (20) years ago.
On the matter of Fire Extinguishment, at the sound of the bell, officers on duty, quickly get into their firefighting gears and respond to the reported fire emergency. Arriving at the scene our firefighters, in the quickest possible time extinguish the fire and return to base to resume their respective engagements prior to the emergency, and anxiously wait for the next possible emergency call. Within the federation comparative data reveals there has been a 33.4% reduction in fires over the 2019 and 2020 period, respectively, as there were 695 fires recorded in 2019 against 643 in 2020. This significant reduction can be attributed to the effective operation of my department’s Fire Prevention Unit.
I wish to commend my hardworking, committed, and dedicated officers for their commitment to the cause of service relative to fire prevention and fire extinguishment. I note in particular, the contribution of our Divisional Fire Officer (Ag), Ms. Mavis Whyte-Archibald, Fire Station Officer, Lennox Griffin, and our Heads of Station, Fire Sub-Station Officers: Rommel Williams, Davron Clarke, Catherine Joseph, and Lesroy Caines.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of our Maintenance Unit, which is headed by Mr. Julio Williams, Fire Sub-Station Officer (Ag). This unit plays a very important and critical role in our organization ensuring that all our vehicles including our fleet of firefighting trucks are at all times fully operational to enable an adequate response to fire emergencies. Permit to highlight the invaluable contribution of our STEP officers who are just as dedicated as our fully enlisted officers. I say to you that your commitment is highly valued and appreciated. Thank you very much.
Finally, on this International Firefighter’s Day, we remember the state of distress of our firefighters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In a recent discussion with Superintendent James, the officer in charge of the SVG Fire Department, a heart-wrenching appeal was made for assistance with drinking water, even though our officers had already responded to the initial appeal made by our federal government. A meeting was quickly convened, and our officers selflessly decided to again contribute from our resources and as we speak over 100 cases of water are being shipped directly to our counterparts in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
A special thanks to the Ministry of National Security and the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis for the continuous and increasing budgetary support which has enabled us to effectively execute our mandate of saving life and property. To our citizens and residents, we pledge to continue to serve guided by our motto which is: “to protect and safeguard the life and property of citizens and residents and the general economy by preventing or reducing the dangers and effects of fires and explosions”. Happy International Firefighters Day to our Firefighters here in the Federation and the world over. May God continue to bless and protect us all. I thank you.