Firefighters to catch a break

| 14/02/2014

(CNS): Officials from the Home Affairs Ministry were hopeful that firefighters who had been battling the dump blaze around the clock since Wednesday should be able to stand down this weekend. By Friday afternoon the fire at the George Town landfill was almost extinguished, and provided there were no longer any signs of the conflagration, the firefighters who had been working some 50 hours non-stop were looking at catching a break on Saturday. The Public Health Department confirmed that although health officials were on alert, there have been no reported cases of ill health related to smoke inhalation. (Photo by Eric Bush)

The fire had been especially difficult to put out as experts estimated it was some 25 feet down inside the rubbish pile and required not just dosing but excavation and turning of the landfill to allow firefighters to direct the water cannons.

Officials explained that deep wells were successfully drilled, supplying water for the crews. Heavy equipment operators, under the direction of fire crews, are working with the Fire Services Department to expose the deep-rooted flames. Eric Bush, chief officer at the ministry, which now oversees the fire service, said he was happy with the progress made since Wednesday.

“I commend the brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to serve and protect our country and its people," he said. “It’s obvious we need to make some improvements to responding to dump fires and adequately supplying our officers with properly functioning safety equipment, which UK Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor Peter Holland pointed out after his review of the Fire Service team two weeks ago. We will learn from this and make the necessary improvements.”

The source of the fire, which began in the early morning hours of Wednesday 12 February, is still unknown and is under investigation. The fire was contained to unprocessed trash and at no time was it in danger of spreading to dumped tyres or vehicles.

Bush and the chief officer at the Ministry of Health, Jennifer Ahearn, as well as other  stakeholders will meet next week for a debriefing of the events surrounding the fire and efforts to put it out.

Dr Kiran Kumar, the medical officer of health, said that the Health Services Authority has been monitoring carefully for any occurrence of health problems due to smoke inhalation since the fire started. So far, no illness related to smoke has been reported. 

Health Minister Osbourne Bodden, who is responsible for the dump, said he was relieved that there were no reported cases of illness related to thesmoke, and apologised to the public for any inconvenience or discomfort they may have experienced during the past few days. Bodden also praised the work of the firefighters and Department of Environmental Health staff.

“These hard working, and committed, civil servants certainly rose to the occasion once again and proved to our country their dedication to service beyond self,” he said.  “I want to personally thank them for their hard work. It wasn’t pleasant work, but they got the job done. We have learned many lessons through this experience and now it’s time to move on and look ahead.”

The fire reinforces the decision of the ministry to form a multi-agency steering committee to spearhead the development of the Cayman Islands’ planned waste management system.

“I must reiterate what I said before. These fires only serve to underscore the fact that it is of critical importance to the country that we find a sustainable solution to waste management,” he said.

The committee held its first meeting on 22 January. Its remit is to provide government with their best technical advice, take responsibility for the business issues associated with the project, approve budgetary and procurement strategy, define and realize benefits and monitor the risks, quality and timeliness of the comprehensive waste management system.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Love the, "there have been no reported cases of ill health related to smoke inhalation."

    Apart from the fact all that means is none they have been told about, give things a few years and then se how much damage these fires are doing to the health of local residents.

    This is a health timebomb.  

  2. Comincents says:

    Great. Who is going to clean the black soot off my house?