The results of a vote taken by secret ballot during a meeting by members of the Fire Brigade at the Coolidge Fire Station are sent a clear signal that it is time for the department to be separated from the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda.
Ninety-eight officers voted in favour of the separation, 29 were against and there were two spoilt ballots.
According to a release, the Minister of Legal Affairs and Public Safety, Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, “through the Acting Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney and Fire Chief Elvis Weaver arranged a meeting with all members of staff so that they could express their views as it pertains to the separation of Fire Department from police force.
Benjamin noted that although the decision should and would ultimately be made by the policymakers, in the interest of participatory government it was thought necessary to involve the men and women of the Fire Brigade.
The support was overwhelming for the separation, and during very lengthy discussions, the views expressed suggested that the time had come for progress to take place, and this, as was indicated by many, could be achieved once the departments are separated.
Minister Benjamin said the change will not affect anyone’s position or salary and that everyone will continue to get the benefits they have been receiving during their years of service. He added that the officers will have the choice to indicate whether or not they wish to remain with the Fire Brigade or be transferred to the police department.
In response to the concerns raised by many officers about the time frame and how promotions will take place once the change has been finalized, Benjamin said that no time frame has been set due to the fact that more research will be conducted and drafters within the Ministry of Legal Affairs have sought the assistance of experts from around the region who have dealt with such situations before.
A fire code would have to be drafted and also the decision of where powers should lie when it comes to promotion and discipline.
“You see, the Fire Brigade Act was passed in 1954, and the provisions made thereunder were inadequate to meet the situations as they prevail today; the law has to be updated,” Benjamin added.
Officers who spoke at the meeting are of the view that the Fire Brigade, once it has been separated from the police force, will generate revenue and will be able to solicit assistance that will aid in the development of the department and the country.
Once the transfer has taken place the department will be renamed Fire and Rescue Service.