Secret ballot held during a meeting attended by members of the Fire Brigade at the Coolidge Fire Station has confirmed to the Minister of Legal Affairs Public Safety the Hon. Attorney General Steadroy Cutie Benjamin that it is time for the department to be fully separated from the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda.
The Minister through the Acting Police Commissioner Atleey 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 Depart 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. During very lengthy discussions the views were expressed that, the time had come for progress to take place, this it was said by many could be achieved, once the departments are separated.
The National Security Minister said the change will not affect anyone’s position or salary; everyone will receive whatever benefits they have been receiving during their years of service. He mentioned that officers will have the choice to say whether or not they wish to remain with the Fire Brigade or be transferred to the police department.
Many officers were concerned about the time frame and how promotions will take place once the change is finalized.
Benjamin responded that no time frame has been set for the finalization of the separation 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 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.
The voting results were 98 in favor of the separation, 29 against with 2 spoilt ballots.