Imagine being stuck at the top

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The Antigua Public Utilities Authority’s (APUA) head office building at the top of High Street and Independence Avenue was recently in the news. It is reported that faulty wires began to smoke and the situation resulted in staff and customers being evacuated from the building.
Following the incident, an official within the fire department, Fire Chief Elvis Weaver no less, reminded the public that they should ensure that buildings are outfitted with equipment to put out fires in the event that they occur. Obviously, Chief Weaver’s advice is sound and should not be dismissed or ignored; as we here in Antigua & Barbuda are accustomed to do when safety is involved. The thought is generally, “it will never happen to me, so why bother”.
Without getting into the fallacy of that point of view, suffice to say that we support the fire chief in his call for safety equipment to be deployed at the workplace. We should add that the safety equipment should also be accompanied by a maintenance schedule and fire safety should be part of every organisation’s disaster recovery plan.
Weaver assured the nation that safety was a top priority at the government buildings and said that the fire department carries out annual inspections on government buildings and recommendations are made to the heads of each department.
That is good to know but there is a serious and obvious deficiency in the Fire Department’s arsenal and it was evident to anyone at the scene or anyone who saw pictures of the scene. The department does not have a ladder truck sufficient to battle blazes in tall multi-storey buildings or save lives that may be trapped at the top by fire on lower floors. We have made mention of this deficiency in the past and had hoped by now that the government would have secured a vehicle. 
This is not a new thing. The observation, or if you prefer, criticism, goes all the way back to our first really ‘tall’ building – the Royal Antiguan Resort in Five Islands. Back when that building was being built, there was a lot of talk about the risks involved in building buildings ‘taller than the tallest coconut tree‘ when we had no fire-fighting equipment that could reach the upper floors in case of an emergency. That conversation began more than 30 years ago!
Since then, many tall buildings have been built and many others are being built and will be built. Admittedly, we are not building skyscrapers but if you are in one of these buildings and you are trapped on one of the upper floors because of an inferno below you, we are fairly sure that you would want the peace of mind that the fire department could raise a ladder and save you. 
Thinking about it, the office for the minister responsible for APUA, Sir Robin Yearwood, is on one of the upper floors of the APUA head office building. We are not sure if he was present during the recent scare, but even if he wasn’t, we hope that this serves as a wake-up call that the fire department is in need of additional equipment, not the least of which, is a functioning ladder truck. Many times, self-preservation is the best motivation.
As a man of the people, we know that the minister will not simply relocate to a lower floor but will bring pressure to bear on his comrades to make the necessary arrangement in the budget and otherwise to ensure that the country’s fire-fighting needs are met.
 Now, we know that fire trucks are not cheap. Quite the opposite, in fact. But there is the option of used tenders. For example, North American fire departments have a reputation for keeping their equipment in tip-top shape. We are fairly certain that there are more than a few good used vehicles that would have been replaced by various fire departments that would fit the bill for our bit of paradise. Remember, oftentimes, equipment is replaced, not because of any defects, but simply because the cycle of budgets dictate they get replaced.
We are not fire-fighting equipment experts but we took to google and found quite a bit of equipment for sale that seems to be in great shape for great prices. For example, we found a 105-foot ladder truck in Iowa with 4,242.8 miles on it and just 2,986.8 hours on its engine. There was a detailed February 2017 report and the seller indicated that any issues that were on the report were rectified prior to offering for sale. The asking price at the time we looked was US $75,000. That seems to be money well spent in our minds. One catastrophe will easily outstrip that kind of spend.
The point is, a ladder truck is a critical piece of equipment that is necessary for the fire department to do its job and save lives. It is more than a ladder in that it also provides the fire fighters the ability to direct water onto fires from above. Please, let us not waste time discussing this any further and take action. We have made quick decisions on spending money in other areas that do not seem to have the importance of this potentially life-saving piece of equipment, so let us bring that kind of focus on this issue.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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