Yesterday, Law Revision Commissioner and Ministry of Legal Affairs Legislative Drafter, Susan Jarvis, elaborated on the rationale for the separation of the fire department from the police force.
Last week, the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda initiated talks to separate the Antigua Fire Brigade from the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, and Minister of Information Melford Nicholas said the separation would allow for faster responses by the fire department.
Jarvis, a guest on OBSERVER AM yesterday, said several laws, including the 1954 Fire Brigade Act, did not contemplate the fire department being linked to the police force.
“In the Fire Brigade Act, it was specified that the Fire Brigade should have its own budget. As it stands right now, the Fire Brigade is not dependent on the Police Force for money. When [the department] is financially independent, why can’t it stand on its own independently?” she said.
She referenced other sections of the Act, particularly sections 5 and 9.
According to Section 5, the “…brigade may be composed of volunteers, paid members, police officers or a combination of two or more of such categories of members”, while Section 9 of the Act states that: “Every police officer stationed in Antigua and Barbuda may be trained in the duties in connection with [the Fire] Brigade.”
Jarvis asserted that it was never mandatory for the Fire Brigade to be one with the Police Force, as the discretion was always there as to whether police officers should be part of the Fire Brigade.
She also noted that the 1952 Police Act had only three sections which referenced the Fire Brigade – Section 73, Section 78 and Section 79.
Section 73 of the Police Act states that a member of the Fire Brigade shall be appointed as a Special Constable, something which Jarvis said is “a common practice in the region.”
Additionally, Section 78 excludes members of the Fire Brigade from being paid for working as a Special Constable and Section 79 states that Fire Brigade members – or their representatives – shall receive a pension if injured or killed while carrying out the duties of Special Constable.
“The Police Act only mentions the Fire Brigade in three sections . . . 73, 78 and 79. There is nothing . . . in the Police Act that remotely suggests the Fire Brigade and the police should be acting as one unit,” Jarvis said.
The legislative drafter also mentioned that firefighters receive specialized training not normally given to ordinary police officers.
“In Antigua and Barbuda, fire officers and police officers are trained in one academy, but at some point persons desirous of being firefighters receive specialized training in search and rescue, in structural firefighting, marine firefighting, aviation firefighting,” she said. “Therefore, firefighters are not as well-versed in police work as they should be, as their training was more specialized.”