Portmore needs increase in critical services to become parish, committee told

The Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) have pointed to critical services which will have to be expanded for Portmore as the Government contemplates parish status for the municipality.

Concerns about fire, medical, and emergency management services were raised by the two State agencies Thursday at a meeting of the joint select committee examining the Government’s proposal to make Portmore the island’s 15th parish.

JFB Acting Commissioner Warren Malcolm noted the annual four per cent increase in the population of Portmore since 2011, which previously mushroomed to just over 182,000 in 2011, from 97,024 in 1991.

“Therefore, the population that the fire brigade now serves is quite an extensive one, and with one fire station it has been proving some amount of challenge,” he said.

The fire station at Waterford now serves the entire municipality comprising 20 communities, which, the JFB says, needs at least three more fire stations, roughly 289 more firefighters, and an expansion in emergency medical services.

According Malcolm, among the challenges facing the fire brigade is long travel distances from the fire station to many of the communities in the municipality.

“From the time of receiving a call to reaching the fire scene, four minutes is the acceptable standard, but moving from Waterford up into Hellshire [for example], you could take approximately 20 minutes in order to reach some of these communities,” he explained.

He pointed out that, because the municipality is so densely populated, manoeuvring traffic is an issue, and therefore the additional fire stations were necessary. Additionally, emergency medical services and fire prevention services need to be increased.

Malcolm noted ongoing major developments at Bernard Lodge, Shooter’s Hill, and in Hellshire, which further underscore the need for increased resources. He said construction of new fire stations would provide short- and long-term job opportunities.

The acting commissioner said that the JFB is in support of the municipality obtaining parish status. “However, we are putting on the table that there are some critical resources that would be needed in order to bolster the fire brigade presence in that area in order to deliver critical service to the people of Portmore and its environs.”

Deputy director general of the ODPEM Richard Thompson said the municipality’s land mass of over 17,000 hectares, compared to its population, raised concerns that there could be no further growth in the spatial settlement patterns, which means the introduction of multi-storey buildings.

“So, what we will see happening going forward, if Portmore is given parish status, is more concentrated, high-rise types of developments, which would give rise to greater requirement for emergency management services,” he said.

Thompson agreed that emergency medical, public health, public safety, and fire services would need to be strengthened.

“We would have to take greater account of the development of a hospital within Portmore,” he advised.

Meanwhile, the local government ministry, which made a strong case for Portmore to receive parish status at the meeting, acknowledged that the municipality needs more health services.

The ministry noted that in 2011 Portmore’s population exceeded that of eight parishes Hanover, Trelawny, St Ann, St Mary, Portland, St Thomas, St Elizabeth, and Westmoreland. In fact, its population was more than that of Hanover and Trelawny combined.

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