Home Affairs Minister, Hermangild Francis, says he was very surprised and ‘taken aback’ by a strike by firefighters who downed tools on Wednesday of last week.
The firefighters want the government to address what they describe as ‘decades long’ outstanding matters of concern to them.
The Minister of Home Affairs told reporters Monday at a press briefing that he believes he has had a very good rapport with the fire officers.
“If you look at some of my speeches from the past, you will notice I always talked about the fire service as being an entity that needed to be taken special care of,” Francis explained.
He asserted that he played his part to the best of his ability.
Francis recalled that in the past two years the government has employed 80 fire officers and promoted fifty, including the appointment of a Fire Chief and a Deputy.
“If you remember the impasse in 2014 after the Commission of Inquiry, there was a hiatus and four years you had an Acting Fire Chief. We have corrected that – we have a Fire Chief now and a Deputy,”Francis told reporters at the pre-cabinet briefing.
He noted that several firefighters have received specialised training both locally and overseas.
“Unprecedented,” Francis declared, adding that never before has that number of officers been able to go overseas for training.
He observed that stations have been renovated and safety procedures enhanced.
Francis said he was very surprised that the firefighters would take strike action without having a discussion with him.
He agreed that some of the issues affecting the Saint Lucia Fire Service are pertinent and pressing and must be addressed
Francis promised that they will be addressed.
However he asserted that none of the issues were ‘life threatening.’
But he indicated that life threatening issues could arise because of the firefighters’ strike.
He disclosed that over the weekend a man was trapped in a vehicle and the fire service responded.
However Francis noted that because of a lack of manpower, other persons had to be used.
He thanked firefighters who were not on duty but turned up in civilian clothing to assist.
Francis also expressed his gratitude to the officers who have been on duty over the past few days.
He expressed the hope that after the Saint Lucia Fire Service Association meets with the Government Negotiating Team Monday, things will return to normal.