REAL NEWS – Plans for the separation of the Police Force and the Fire Department reportedly have been shelved, REAL News has learned.
Discussions on this matter have been taking place for years, with an overwhelming vote to effect the separation having been cast by members of the Fire Brigade since June 2019.
On that occasion, officers had expressed the view that the time had come for progress to take place, and this would be accomplished only when the departments were separated.
This reportedly confirmed to Minister of Legal Affairs and Public Safety Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin that the men and women of the Fire Department were, in fact, ready for the unit to stand alone.
Although the decision would ultimately be made by the policymakers, in the interest of participatory government, the Administration thought it necessary to involve the officers, Benjamin said, then.
Former Fire Chief Elvis Weaver had been a regular voice calling for the separation of the Fire Department from the Police Force; and on March 17, 2022, before he left office, he reiterated the call on the Good Morning Sass Show.
Weaver had noted that Antigua and Barbuda is one of the few Caribbean countries that still have the joint arrangement in place.
Again, in February this year, media reports indicated that the long delayed separation was still set to become a reality, although many officers had lost hope that it would materialize.
In June 2022, plans for the separation seemed to have been in the final stages, since Minister Benjamin announced that the relevant Bill would be taken to Parliament – but that did not happen.
Benjamin later reassured the members of the Force that separation was still on the cards, and would be considered in the new term of the Gaston Browne Administration, when the Parliament was fully convened.
However, a reliable source now tells REAL News that the Government has made an about-turn on the separation plans.
According to the source, the Fire Department augments the strength of the Police Force during national functions; and any separation would result in the Police having to enlist quite a number of officers to replace the firefighters.
The source says the Browne Administration cannot hire enough persons to augment the Force since it is financially embarrassed.
Given this reality, REAL News was told, a number of firefighters have indicated their intention to opt for early retirement, since the present fire chief is considered younger than most officers and will stagnate promotions.
Back in 2019 Chief Weaver and Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney submitted a document to the Cabinet outlining the details for the separation process.
It is believed that the separation would be of great benefit to the men and women of the Fire Service in terms of better training and faster response times, by allowing them to focus specifically on fire duties.
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