For the first time since protest action was taken at the Portsmouth Fire Station and the subsequent sudden transfer of firefighters, Fire Chief Josiah Dupuis has spoken publicly on the matter.
At a press conference on Thursday Dupuis said during that strike he was concerned that no one was answering the telephones and no emergency coverage was being provided for the district.
In early August the firefighters decided to sleep outside the station because of what they said were inhumane conditions and rat infestation there. The action continued for days and the protesting officers were subsequently transferred to other parts of the island.
For weeks Dupuis remained mum on the matter but on Thursday, he sought to give his version of the events that led to the transfers.
“On May 21, 2014 the Dominica Public Service Union (the union representing the firefighters) and the PS of National Security held a meeting to discuss working conditions and other matters regarding officers and an agreement was arrived at on several points including moving fire officers’ stations at Grand Bay and Portsmouth to rented buildings by July, 2014 or earlier if possible,” he said.
He explained further that a proposal was submitted to Cabinet for consideration which was approved, however, due to an “administrative error,” the decision regarding Portsmouth was deferred.
Dupuis explained further that efforts were immediately taken to correct the error, however, there was a change of Permanent Secretary (PS).
He said the PS spoke to the Union to brief it on the reasons for the delay in securing the building identified for relocation at Portsmouth and head of the DPSU, Thomas Letang, seemed then to have understood the reasons.
“On August 1, the Deputy Fire Chief decided to visit Portsmouth Fire Station and on his arrival he reported that the men had adopted a protest posture by vacating the station building,” Dupuis said.
He said once that information was relayed to him, he immediately directed officers from the Fire Brigade in Roseau to report to Portsmouth for duty.
“My concern was that since the telephone lines were not being answered by the officers at that station, the Fire and Ambulance Services Division was in effect not providing emergency coverage for the district as it is mandated to so do,” he stated.
He pointed out that he was concerned because 99.9 percent of the Fire Services’ responses are based on telephone calls. “It’s really quite a travesty to have fire officers at a station but not prepared to answer the telephone,” Dupuis stated.
Dupuis said the Portsmouth Resource Center was identified as a building for temporally relocation of the officers, however, they refused instructions to maintain a “sentry at the Portsmouth Fire Station in order to answer emergency lines”.
He said because of that, on August 11, an emergency transfer list was circulated.
The transfers were to take immediate effect.
However, the DPSU has described the immediate transfers as ‘victimization’ and said is preparing to take legal action against government.
Letang said the officers were transferred to ridiculous locations, which take them far away from their homes.
He said the Union is currently awaiting a response from its lawyers on how to proceed.
Letang said the DPSU is confident that it can put forward a strong case.
At the press conference Dupuis did not address the DPSU’s position.