October 6, 2005 – Representatives of fire service organizations from all over the Caribbean converged on St. Croix this week to take part in the Caribbean Association of Chief, Deputy and Assistant Chief Fire Officers (CACDACFO) 2005 conference held at the Divi Carina Bay Resort.
This year's theme is One Caribbean, One Fire Service, One Mission.
Speakers at the opening ceremony on Wednesday brought the theme of the conference home, highlighting Caribbean solidarity and the need to share resources and expertise.
"We are living in a time that requires us to prepare for worst case scenarios," Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said, addressing association members. Turnbull said Virgin Islands' ties to the Unites States "sometimes obscures the fact that we are a Caribbean people. Although the Virgin Islands are proud of their U.S. citizenship, the islands are an integral part of the Caribbean," Turnbull said. Calling the VI a "true melting pot of the Caribbean," Turnbull reminded the gathering of lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and the 911 attack on the World Trade Center. "We had better be ready to do things right away before it's too late. When help comes, for some it might be too late," he said.
The conference marks the fifth gathering since the inaugural meeting of CACDACFO and the third conference it has held. CACDACFO's primary objective is to reduce the loss of life, personal injury and damage to property and the environment by improving the quality of firefighting, rescue fire prevention in the Caribbean. CACDACFO was formed in 2001 and the Virgin Islands joined the organization in 2002.
Fire chiefs from Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago attended the opening ceremony.
Gregory N. Richards, St. Croix Rescue Chief and CACDACFO president-elect, said the conference would offer "constructive dialogue, expert professional advice and will plot the way for the future development of fire services in the Caribbean.
"Hurricanes and acts of terrorism may test the fire services ability to save lives," Richards said. Acknowledging that "outside help may be slow in coming," Richards said the conference would forge new relationships and develop memorandums of agreement between the agencies.
Virgin Islands Tourism Commissioner Pamela C. Richards who is also the chair of the Caribbean Tourism Association praised the fire fighters for their valor, leadership and commitment.
"You are a great source of pride, satisfaction and comfort to the community," Richards said. "Larger concerns of homeland security and terrorism pose a threat to the tourism product. You have a great and awesome responsibility."
Merwin C. Potter, Fire Services director said the organization must grow and commitments must be made among the organizations. "We are in a profession with similar issues; homeland security, wild fire suppression and terrorism," Potter said.
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards also welcomed the representatives.
During the four-day conference representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, the Los Angeles City Fire Department and V.I. Homeland Security will speak to the gathering. There will also be hazmat, rescue and fire retardant product demonstrations.
Attendees will be treated to a sunset cruise on Thursday evening and a tour of the Hovensa fire house on Friday.
The conference culminates on Sunday with a black tie fire chiefs ball at Government House.
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