Public Awareness Campaign Being StrengthenedThe Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) is among several agencies and departments, which are now intensifying the streamlining of their operations, to ensure greater levels of efficiency, as part of the Government’s overall thrust to increase fiscal prudence.Head of the fire service, Commissioner Laurie Williams says the department is adjusting its 2013/2014 operations to this end, and gives the assurance that despite financial challenges the JFB will strive to improve service delivery.“One of the ways I think we will need is a renewed emphasis on fire prevention and public education. It means that we must continue to treat the Community Fire Safety Programme that we rolled out in 2008 as a priority on the similar level of importance as we will put into enhancing the fire suppression activities of the organisation,” he says.Commissioner Williams points out also that there will be increased use of information communication technologies. This he says will play a greater role in meeting service delivery, noting that the Brigade has acquired computer hardware to ensure that by the end of the current financial year, all stations will be linked.“The next step is the procurement of dedicated fire service management software, which will allow us to analyze in real time what is happening in terms of our response patterns; allow us to dispatch more quickly, and do GIS (geographical information systems) mapping, which in real time shows us the closest hydrants, which hydrants are out of service, where the incident is and what other resources are available to the fire fighters in the field,” he explains.While highlighting access to dedicated sources of water as one of the primary challenges the brigade faces, the fire chief also expresses concern about the public’s propensity to burn “any and everything” in clean-up activities, or to clear land. He says further education about fire hazards and fire safety is therefore another important focus of the department.Commissioner William also points to the proliferation of informal settlements and the inability of fire units to access these settlements because of the narrow roadways. Furthermore, the hazardous materials used to construct dwellings in these settlements, and the minimal access to water in the event of a fire emergency, are also worrying issues.He notes that although these are unplanned settlements, these citizens are also entitled to the JFB’s services when the need arises. Inner cities also pose their own challenges due to illegal electricity connections in some instances, and damage to hydrants. These communities, and unplanned settlements will therefore be targeted for the department’s public awareness and education campaign.Mr. Williams praises residents who are aware, and who have on occasion invited the Brigade’s assessment team into their homes to indicate what is needed to improve fire safety.“Usually what we find and what we need to pay attention to is the overloading of receptacles, not parking vehicles in close proximity to those working hydrants, (and) not using hydrant pits as repositories for litter or the stuffing of the orifices of hydrants,” he says.Meanwhile, some of a large number of hydrants, which were not functioning, have been restored by the JFB’s maintenance team under the Hydrant Maintenance Programme. “Hydrant rehabilitation is ongoing and over the last financial year (2012/2013) over $2.5 million has been spent on acquiring hydrants. These are used to replace those knocked over from traffic accidents etcetera. We have also installed hydrants in areas where our analysis has indicated a need for a hydrant in closer proximity,” he informs.Plans are in place to install hydrants on highways and additional ones in rural communities, following further assessment. The JFB will continue to build on its critical relationship with the National Water Commission and establish relations with other water authorities that have access to various sources.