Home News Local news FIRE CONCERNS IGNORED, GROUP TO PLAN STRATEGY

FIRE CONCERNS IGNORED, GROUP TO PLAN STRATEGY

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Sept. 22, 2003 – The Northside Civic Organization has yet to receive a response to a letter the group sent Gov. Charles W. Turnbull nearly a month ago and a petition it sent several weeks before that, both calling for the reopening of the Dorothea fire station.
"We have absolutely heard nothing from the governor," Ann Durante-Arnold, organization president, told those gathered at a community meeting Saturday evening. "I think we should have heard some kind of response."
In the letter sent to Turnbull on Aug. 25, the group stated it was "dismayed to learn of the closing of the Dorothea fire station. As citizens and taxpayers, there are certain basic functions which we expect for our hard-earned dollars, which we willingly contribute to this government to make possible."
On Aug. 7, the organization sent a petition bearing 800 signatures to the governor, along with a letter from Sen. Lorraine Berry, a North Side resident, requesting Turnbull's immediate, unconditional intervention.
Now, the petition has 1,000 signatures, Durante-Arnold said.
Berry wrote the governor in her letter that "it is the duty of the top leadership in your administration to find creative and efficacious ways to provide public safety," despite budgetary constraints that "do not allow new hires, equipment, apparatus, and structures."
The Dorothea facility, the only fire station on the North Side, reopened in June 2002 after having been closed for three and a half years. Within a year, it was closed again, with the Fire Service director, Ian Williams Sr., saying the action was taken after five firefighters in the V.I. National Guard were called to active duty in Iraq and others retired.
Durante-Arnold said she thinks a plan should have been in place to prevent the closing under those circumstances. She said six firefighters who retired have not been replaced and that a good third of the island is without adequate fire protection.
"We seriously question the priorities of this government" when the basics of road maintenance, sewage disposal, trash removal, good education and accredited schools, health services, public safety and fire services "appear to be in trouble," the group's letter to the governor stated. "These are not frills — they are necessities."
"A fire station in Dorothea would cut response time in half" in the case of a fire on the North Side, according to Brian Grimshaw, the civic group's public relations chair. He said trucks from the closest fire station, at Fort Christian, would take 30 to 35 minutes to respond. However, he said, fire officials have assured him that a structure could be destroyed by fire in 10 minutes. Beyond that time, he said, firefighters would only be able to put out the fire, not save the structure.
And, Grimshaw said, a functioning Dorothea fire station would have saved a neighbor who died in his house during a fire.
Other emergency needs
In addition to reopening the Dorothea fire station, the North Side group is calling for fire stations with police and Emergency Medical Services facilities attached.
"On St. Thomas alone, such facilities, at a minimum, should exist in Dorothea, Fortuna, Bournefield, Tutu, Bovoni, and Red Hook and in Charlotte Amalie," the group's letter to the governor stated. And, it said, "Similar stations should be established on St. John and St. Croix."
Currently St. Thomas has only two functioning fire stations, downtown at Fort Christian and toward the East End in Estate Anna's Retreat.
Having had no response from Turnbull regarding their concerns, the civic group decided to meet again at 3 p.m. next Sunday at Palms Court Harbourview to discuss their next move.
Grimshaw said one option would be to demonstrate outside Government House or the Legislature Building but that the group hoped to get other ideas at the meeting.
The agenda for that meeting will be a largely familiar one: getting the Fire Service up to standard territorywide, improving and widening North Side roads, and possibly seeking to block the development of Hans Lollik island just off St. Thomas's north shore.
The fire services and road concerns were discussed at an Aug. 2 Northside Civic Organization meeting attended by Berry; Williams; Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget; and James O'Bryan Jr., St. Thomas-St. John and Water Island administrator. (See "Residents find little solace in meeting".)
Grimshaw recalled that while there was dialogue at that meeting, administration officials kept saying there was nothing they could do because the government had no money. And Grimshaw said he is getting tired of hearing that excuse.
Another North Side resident and civic group activist agreed: "This is our tax dollars," Jason Budsan said.

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