Fire hydrants… whose responsibility?
Over the past few years a number of articles were published in all the daily newspapers with regards to fire hydrants in the city of Georgetown, and it seems that no solution is in sight, this resulted in the fire service bearing the brunt of criticism for failing to control fires in their early stages.
It must be noted that most of the tenders carry a maximum of 450 gallons of water to the scene of a fire, with pumps capable of discharging it in less than two minutes.
Any fire officer in charge of an appliance approaching the scene of a fire in an area where the risk of fire spreading is great, would do his best to get that fire under control with the limited capacity of water that is available to him, or seek to quickly supplement that resource from the fire hydrants or any other source which is available in the vicinity, such as a canal.
But when the hydrants are not functional, then the big question is what happens next. In the meantime the fire is consuming everything in its path. Valuable minutes are lost, which dictates whether the fire would become a major conflagration or one which is quickly extinguished. The million-dollar question is who is responsible for the fire hydrants?
Let us delve into a little of history. As early as 1929 untreated water was pumped around the city from the Lamaha Conservancy via mains .This water was at that time used primarily for non-domestic use; watering plants, washing the streets and for fire fighting. Water for domestic use was collected and stored in large vats by householders during the rainy season.
To make matters simple, in order to access the water for fighting purposes via water mains and fire hydrants, the Superintendent /Chief Fire Officer of the fire brigade would forward a request to the fire advisory board with specifications for the installation of fire mains and fire hydrants at specific points to serve the growing business/commercial, industrial or residential areas.
The board, on approval of the request, would forward it along with the relevant information to the Ministry of Works, which was the agency responsible for the procurement, installation and maintenance of all fire hydrants.
As far as is known this system was never changed, and over the years it continued, until the sixties, when the fire advisory board ceased to function During 1987 /1988 the Chief Fire Officer instructed that a survey of the available water supply and fire hydrants of Georgetown be conducted.
After the survey, and at a meeting with the Chief Fire Officer and other senior officers to discuss the reports (two documents), in one it was pointed out that after the fire service conducts its operational tests of the fire hydrants and forwards the reports (as regards defects found) to the city council, and that there is no arrangement whereby the city council is responsible for maintenance works or the installation of fire hydrants – whereas those reports should be sent to the Ministry of Works for attention and copied to the city council as a matter of courtesy.
However, despite being armed with this information, it was advised that the existing system of sending the reports to the city council should continue, as they are/were not aware of any such or new arrangement to that effect.
The source of the problem in relation to where the responsibility lies could have resulted from the early 1970s with the new development and rehabilitation of the water system within and around the cities of both Georgetown and New Amsterdam. This was done on contractual terms, whereby the contractor would install the fire hydrants (and maybe with the lack of foresight) with no arrangement for maintenance put in place.
On several occasions the fire department was only notified when the contractor(s) on completion of the installation process would request that a test of the hydrants be carried out to ensure that they are operational.
I trust having this little background information will be of some help.
Mohan P. Harry