Prevention focuses on all the safety measures that need to be taken to prevent or limit a hazard. The safety measures include:
- safer location (building, terrain, road, etc.)
- safer behaviour (work instructions to prevent accidents due to carelessness or ignorance)
- safety and emergency plan (what to do in case an accident occurs until emergency services arrives).
- Educate the community on safety measures
The Fire Department gives permits for import, transport and export, usage and sales to the ‘shows’ etc of Fire Works & explosives.
The Fire Department advises on fire safety measures for building permits, hindrance permits, events permits, operational permits and fireworks or explosives permits. The regulations the Fire Department bases its advices on are:
- Sint Maarten Besluit technische brandpreventievoorschriften, National Decree AB2013, GTno01. (St Maarten Fire safety building code)
- Vuurwerkbesluit, Sint Maarten Fireworks legislation:
- Other international fire safety regulations for specific activities.
The Fire Department also carries out Fire Prevention inspection based on granted permits and the abovementioned regulations.
Some of the locations and events that the Fire department inspects and advices on are:
- The Fire Department advises the Ministry of Public Housing, Environment, Spatial Development, and Infrastructure (VROMI) when it comes to zoning, building permits and hindrance permits. This include development of a neighbourhood, commercial and public buildings. Also installation of equipment that can cause harm like storage of fuel.
- “We also advise the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunications (TEATT) when it comes to businesses that needs an operational licenses such as bars, restaurants, supermarkets and hotels. We need to inspect them to make sure it’s safe for both customer, employees and surroundings”
- Other facilities are also structurally inspected like schools, day-care centers or upon request.
- Also events where larger amounts of people gather and thus the effects of an accident can escalate, like Regatta and Carnival.
Inspections are a daily routine done by fire prevention inspectors. Every inspection is registered. Unsafe situations identified are reported to the permit applicant / owner and authorities with the measures that needs to be enforced. Once all safety criteria are met a Fire Safety Approval report will be provided.
The Fire Department prepares itself to respond safely and efficiently in case an accident happens. Even with all prevention in place an accident can still happen, but with a proper prepared response the effects of the accident can be limited. Activities of the Preparation subsection includes:
- the planning, placing, mapping and maintenance of hydrants
- developing attack plans and standard operating procedures
- mapping of buildings and accessibility routes.
There are several levels of Education in the Fire Department:
Vocational Level: the majority of fire fighters come in on this level (after finishing Highschool or have a vocation)
Sub-Officer: Associate Level
Officers: College/ University (Academic Degree), this gives a possibility for youth who go abroad to study, to return to the Fire Department. This is great because the interest in Safety/ Disaster has grown and several St. Maarteners are getting their Degrees in Disaster Management.
All fire-fighters and other Fire Department staff are certified through courses and education from the IFV, that supervises the exam and exam committee. Regionally there are examiners appointed by IFV.
Any exam will have an official Examboard that has a mix of examiners from Sint Maarten and Dutch Caribbean islands to keep the exam objective. St. Maarten is one of the only islands that has an IFV certified Fire Training & Exam facility.
The firefighters are educated on different levels in the following areas:
- Fire Fighting
- Rescue (jaws of life, vehicle extraction, building collapses, etc)
- Hazardous Material (gas leak, fuel spill, etc.)
- Incident management (coordinate and work together in a team, whereby everyone has a different role)
For every function like fire-fighter, vehicle operator, senior fire-fighter, crew commander, officer on duty / incident commander there is a course to complete and a diploma to attain. This also counts for the managerial, disaster and risk management functions as it is of vital importance that everyone within the department is competent through education and continuous training.
Training within the Fire Department is an important strategy to ensure that staff remains competent both physically and mentally. There are weekly trainings to remain physically fit and trainings to remain acquainted with the different procedures and roles within a team, such as fire-fighter, vehicle operator, crew commander and officer on duty (OvD). These trainings are never the same as they prepare the teams for the type of response that might be needed for the different accidents and disasters that can happen on Sint Maarten. This is to ensure that all fire-fighters continue to work as a team and are aware of each other’s’ competencies.
Therefore the personnel need to keep upgrading to remain relevant and prepared for the type of accidents that can happen on the island.
Whatever new risk, like electric cars, is introduced on the island our safety procedures are evaluate and adjusted if need be. Fire-fighters on all level will be update and trained for such change, to be able to continue perform well and safe.
Therefore education and training is Safety Experts/ Risk Managers- “try to create a safe community. We are prepared to respond, contain, and prevent further injuries and death”. At the time of this interview there was the positive news that 15 recruits finalized their Fire Fighting course; it took over a year due to COVID-19 delays.
Incident Management (Coordinating Complex Incidents)
Depending on the complexity of an accident different emergency services, like police, ambulance and other government and non-government entities will have to work together. To ensure there is one line of communication these organizations have to meet regularly at the accident scene. The Fire Department will chair those meetings to guide the decision-making process. The different operation leaders come together and take decisions based on the situation. Setting the right kinds of priorities and making sure that all gaps are covered and that different teams are not doing the same.
“Incident Management is a team effort, and you just have to have somebody chairing, which is the Fire Departments job by law”.