Fire Chief urges caution to avoid festive accidents

Many festive fires are related to decorative lights on Christmas trees (Photo courtesy CTV News)
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By Orville Williams

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In anticipation of the likely increase in social activity during this festive season, Fire Chief Elvis Weaver says he is concerned about the potentially heightened risk of unwanted incidents.

This could be the most ‘normal’ festive season in Antigua and Barbuda since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, after last year’s festivities were largely hindered by the sustained spread of the virus, as well as the numerous restrictions in place and the lack of vaccines to mitigate said spread.

Since then, the virus’ spread has dipped significantly – with just a trickling of new infections per daily report – and nearly 60,000 people have been fully inoculated since the public vaccination programme began earlier this year.

Perhaps the most significant difference though is the fact that the ongoing state of emergency (SOE) could be lifted by December 23, just in time for Christmas.

The decision to lift the SOE is set to be announced later this week, after parliament convenes on Thursday.

After being ‘locked up’ for last year’s holidays and for much of the last 18-plus months, it is understandable that persons could look to ‘break free’ and gather with friends and family like they couldn’t for so long.

This, Weaver told Observer, has his department concerned and he is pleading with residents and visitors to be cautious, especially when cooking up a storm.

“I would say we are concerned…the state of emergency might be lifted [and] people would want to free up themselves as we say, so they may have a lot of outings and activities – family gatherings, a lot of cooking and barbecuing and so on.

“We will definitely be concerned and we’re hoping that people will be very careful with what they are doing, especially with a lot of open flames. There are some barbecue grills that use propane gas…we want people to be careful about those; if there’s any leakage of gas, it can be very dangerous,” he explained.

And it’s not just the cooking and barbecuing that the Fire Chief is concerned about, he is also urging caution in the outfitting of residential and business properties with the traditional Christmas lights.

Though they are a delightful sight and bring that sense of holiday cheer, he warned that improper usage could prove to be detrimental.

“You have to make sure that you don’t overload your circuits and you should consult with a qualified electrician to tell you what you can and can’t do,” he said.

Meanwhile, Weaver is looking ahead to the start of the new year with a sense of optimism, considering the resource challenges his team have been facing for a long time.

A shortage of equipment, including fire trucks, has been exacerbated throughout the course of the pandemic, but he insisted that things should start looking up sooner, rather than later.

“There’s no secret that we’re not up to capacity with the number of trucks that we would like, but we have had some assistance from companies with water trucks and so on, so hopefully that will continue.

“I’m very hopeful that, into the new year, things will change. I’m hopeful that we will get the trucks that are needed and we look forward for the new year with some optimism,” Weaver added.

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