An explosion of technological systems, coupled with an increase in the severity of disasters and calls for help, has elevated the level of training required for fire officers in the Barbados Fire Service (BFS). However, the organisation has risen to the challenge, as it seeks to extinguish any chance of being left behind, or overwhelmed by the risks posed by new and emerging trends.
Speaking during an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service, Chief Fire Officer and Director of the Barbados Fire Academy, Errol Maynard, identified malfunctioning photovoltaic systems and electric vehicle fires as some of the new challenges faced by the organisation in a rapidly expanding technological environment.
But he indicated that the Academy was ready as it observed current trends and provided training programmes to equip fire officers to meet the changing demands overtime.
“We have looked at this new industry, the photovoltaic, and the different types of renewable energy projects that we have in Barbados, and we are seeking to find training and ways to see how best we can mitigate any incident that may come from a malfunctioning system,” he said.
Noting that the BFS has already responded to some fires involving the installation of renewable energy systems, the Fire Chief stated that it was critical for fire officers to understand how they function, and the dangers involved.
“We have recognised that even though you might turn off the electricity supply, once it is getting light and the panels are still there, it still generates energy and that is a danger for our officers. So therefore, we have been looking to get training in these areas,” Mr. Maynard highlighted.
He added that electric vehicles presented a similar challenge as they too generated a high volume of electricity, which could be dangerous for officers responding to incidents.
“You can be electrocuted easily, and therefore, we are looking at ways to ensure that our officers are adequately trained to deal with any incident involving these vehicles or these systems,” he said.
Mr. Maynard stressed that it was critical for the Barbados Fire Academy to evolve and meet the changing needs of the environment and prepare fire officers to deal with new trends.
That, he said, involved being aware of Government policy and what was happening internationally, to ensure that the training met the changing demands.
However, the Fire Chief noted that the vision for the BFS extended beyond responding to fires involving renewable energy systems or electric vehicles.
He said over the next five to 10 years, it was hoped that the Barbados Fire Academy would become recognised as the primary firefighting training institution in the region.
Mr. Maynard explained that there were plans to send two fire officers overseas for training as arson investigators, but that was dependent on whether the COVID-19 pandemic was brought under some control.
“We have looked at this new industry, the photovoltaic, and the different types of renewable energy projects that we have in Barbados, and we are seeking to find training and ways to see how best we can mitigate any incident that may come from a malfunctioning system.”Chief Fire Officer and Director of the Barbados Fire Academy, Errol Maynard
Once that training is completed, those officers would then be required to train other fire officers in determining the cause of fires.
Meanwhile, he said there were also plans to embark on seafarer training from this year, through the Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute of Technology, to meet the growing demand in this area.
“We are going to be training individuals as seafarers. Part of that project is to build props at the Barbados Fire Academy that we can do some meaningful training, and train some instructors.
“We want to be a leader in that particular area of seafarer training. There are a lot of boat owners, a lot of people who travel on ships and work on them, and we think that we can provide some of the training for this part of the region,” Mr. Maynard stated, noting that persons were presently trained in Trinidad or Jamaica.
Meanwhile, the Fire Chief noted that the Crew Manager, Watch Manager and Station Manager courses offered by the Academy were already accredited by the Barbados Community College (BCC), with persons receiving college credits for the courses taken.
Training Officer at the Barbados Fire Academy, Acting Station Officer, Marlon Small, also noted that new entrants to the BFS would be exposed to topics such as ventilation, vehicle extrication, ladder rescue, well rescues, and emergency medical technician.
“The new entrant to the Fire Service has to be prepared and taught and be exposed to the cutting-edge information that will allow them to be better able to respond. In Barbados, more persons and industries are using a lot more chemicals.
“There is always the possibility of an incident, and therefore, we must be able to respond. So, the new entrant is exposed to things like hazardous material awareness and operations, so that we can effectively serve the public of Barbados,” Mr. Small explained.
“We want to be a leader in that particular area of seafarer training. There are a lot of boat owners, a lot of people who travel on ships and work on them, and we think that we can provide some of the training for this part of the region.”Chief Fire Officer and Director of the Barbados Fire Academy, Errol Maynard
In addition, fire officers also undergo water rescue training with the Barbados Coast Guard, and training in the medical field through the Emergency Medical Technician programme offered by the BCC.
Having recently joined the ranks of the BFS, Auxiliary Fire Officer, David Scantlebury, stated that while from the outside looking in it would appear that the BFS was just about putting out fires, his recent training had proven otherwise.
“Being exposed to training has broadened my scope to so much more than the service has evolved to…. We did a lot of diverse things, like search and rescue, extrication … water safety, the combined ladder platform and EMT training. So, it was not just a case where … you just come and out fires. You see the Fire Service taking roles as first responders,” he said.
Mr. Scantlebury added that the BFS was also changing with the times and embracing technology, while recognising that this would bring with it new challenges.