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Prime Minister meets with Firefighters/Union Reps

First responders to receive regular updates on the progress of their grievances

As scheduled for 1:00pm on Friday, October 28, the Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs for Sint Maarten, Silveria E. Jacobs and her support staff met with Windward Island Civil Servants Union/Private Sector (WICSU-PSU) representatives, and firefighters of which 8 were designated as spokespersons for the Fire Department of Sint Maarten. Also present was Acting SG Emilia Connor-Thomas, and Clive Richardson, Chief of the Fire Department.

Despite the week’s tensions, the focus of this meeting was to create a platform where the firefighters could voice their frustrations in a setting that would provide answers as well as solutions. The meeting established protocol with the Prime Minister giving her opening remarks expressing her willingness to openly discuss and resolve the challenges which she agrees are priority for handling. The Prime Minister and by extension the government of St. Maarten empathizes with the plight of the firefighters, honored as frontliners in the community, and reiterates her commitment to ensure their safety and health is properly handled as soon as possible as they put themselves on the line for us with every call.

Thereafter WICSU-PSU President, Ms. Sharon Cannegieter, gave opening remarks and passed the floor to the firefighters designated to share some of their experiences, concerns and challenges. The speakers ranged from officers who have spent over a decade at the department to recent graduates and those who are a few years shy of senior status.

During the three hour long sit-down, the firefighters elucidated some grievances that were previously mentioned in their correspondences with the Ministry of General Affairs and others that were new to the docket. The list of issues, though extensive can be categorized as issues related to safety in their working and living conditions; function book, official position, and retirement age; operational materials; among others.

“The meeting ended, not with false promises, but with a dedicated plan for assessing the situations mentioned by the firefighters. I have already disseminated a team for assessing the situation, so that it can be ascertained which points can be handled and with what timeline. Some requests, like the fire suits have a definitive timeline for delivery, even though they were delayed due to technical issues. Some issues can be dealt with in the short term, while others will require a more structural plan to ensure firefighters are protected and feel appreciated. With how much these men and women do for the community of Sint Maarten, they deserve the utmost care and attention.” said Prime Minister Jacobs.

Prime Minister visited the station on Saturday with Facility Services management, engineers and contractors to assess first-hand the issues that had come to light. Short term actions will commence on Monday.

Solutions to the living and working conditions fall within the scope of ERP-1 Trustfund projects (which are ongoing), SOG as owners of the building and Government’s Facilities Department. All three stakeholders will meet with Prime Minister this week to finalize the action plan to ensure the challenges are handled in the shortest possible time.
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