The manpower shortage in the Saint Lucia Fire Service (SLFS) has been described by the President of the Saint Lucia Fire Service Association, Shane Felix, as being ‘dangerously serious.’
Felix told the Times that the manpower shortage has created a very unhealthy environment.
He expressed the view that the worst case scenario occurs at fire service headquarters.
According to the Chairman of the Fire Service Association, headquarters has equipment requiring at least nineteen people to man them.
He explained that the requirement of nineteen persons does not make accommodation for sick leave, time off and vacation.
As a result Felix asserted that more than nineteen persons are required.
“We currently have a staff complement of just eight persons,” Felix told the Times.
He said the situation forces persons to do double or triple duties with devastating effects on them.
Felix declared that staff members are overworked.
“It is very stressful, morale is very low and people are frustrated – it is really a very unhealthy environment,” he told the Times.
He stated that it would take the injection of quite a number of persons for the Fire Service to perform at optimum.
Felix recalled that there was a 2006 feasibility study on correcting the staffing issues.
“The employer started by removing uniformed staff from civilian duties and replacing them with civilians, but after that was done they stopped,” he said.
He observed that the last recruitment for the Fire Service was done in 2009.
“That tells you how far back we have had people coming in,” Felix noted.
He said people have been leaving the service through resignations, transfers, retirement and other means.
“It is very terrible,” Felix lamented.
He pointed out that their were persons at the airport stations who, after the airports are closed, have to report to domestic stations to assist with duties there.
Felix revealed that other staff who have already completed their shifts stay back to assist with the manpower shortage.
“What’s even sadder than that is we don’t seem to see the sort of empathy, understanding and consideration from our senior officers – everybody just seems to be concerned about themselves and what they can get from the department,” he told the Times.
Felix recalled a recent shutdown at the Gros Islet fire station, observing that the situation had occurred twice in the space of three weeks.
He observed that the Micoud station had also been shut down prior to the shutdown of Gros Islet station.
“I am telling you, this thing is very serious,” Felix stated.
He said a batch of trainees who began training last month will make no difference to the manpower situation since a new station at Babonneau is scheduled to come on stream.
“If you were to take those forty persons, they would basically serve as just three shifts for one station; so image those persons are placed at Babonneau, they will only be able to man Babonneau,” Felix explained.
He said the employer must understand that the SLFS needs ‘significant recruitment’ with permanent as well as auxiliary staff.