Public Safety Minister Steadroy Benjamin says talks regarding separating the Fire Department from the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda are still on the cards, however, there are several factors to be considered before a final determination is made.
The Fire Department has been pushing to achieve this goal for a number of years. Many believe a separation would result in better training for firefighters and faster response times, by allowing them to focus specifically on fire duties.
Fire Chief Assistant Commissioner of Police Elvis Weaver told a news conference last week that the matter remains in the hands of the government.
He also stated that some of the government’s top officials are still on board with the separation, adding that the members of the Fire Department are prepared if it comes to fruition.
Benjamin, however, stated that one of the first things to be done is to update the old legal Act that governs the fire brigade. When this is done, he said, the government will have to look at the practicalities of separating the two entities.
“The government is open-minded to this approach but we have not made a definitive decision yet. It is understood that we will be one of the last territories to be separating both institutions, but we have been looking at our situation at the moment and the present complement of police force to see if it’s feasible at this point to have it done,” the minister said.
He insisted that the matter is not yet off the table.
In April 2019, the Cabinet announced that it was putting plans in motion to facilitate the separation. This followed the submission of a document from Fire Chief Weaver and Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney outlining full details about the process.
In that same year, legislative drafter in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Susan Jarvis, also noted that several laws, including the Fire Brigade Act, did not contemplate the Fire Department being linked to the police force.
She also added then, that it was never mandatory for the fire brigade to be combined with the police force, saying the question was always there as to whether police officers should be a part of the fire brigade.
To date, Antigua and Barbuda remains the only Caricom country that is yet to begin the process of separating the bodies.