GIS – 12 June 2013: A new legislation regulating the fire services, the Mauritius Fire and Rescue Service Bill, has been voted at the National Assembly yesterday. The Fire Services Act, dating as far back as 1954, has been repealed and consequential amendments have been brought to the Central Electricity Board Act, the Central Water Authority Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Road Traffic Regulations 1954.
The objectives of this legislation are inter alia, to provide for the setting up of the Mauritius Fire and Rescue Service and make better provision for the prevention of and response to fires and other incidents likely to endanger persons, animals, property or the environment. It also aims at enhancing coordination and harmonise working relationships among emergency organisations. According to the Minister of Local Government and Outer Islands, Mr. Hervé Aimée, this Bill “goes in line with the waves of modernisation over which our country is surfing today”.
This new legislation has been rendered necessary in the wake of the evolution over the time of the role and functions of firefighters and new developments in different aspects of life-saving and property-saving actions. These, in particular, include intervention during and after natural calamities such as cyclones and floods, accidental or criminal fires, release of hazardous chemicals and toxic wastes, and road accidents.
Addressing new challenges
“Thus, in order to address new challenges and inherent dangers, the Government Fire Services has gradually evolved from its primary mandate of extinguishing fires to become an ‘All-Hazard’ response agency”, said the Minister. In a bid to capture properly the full scale of activities of the Fire Services and to respond to the growing and changing needs of modern Mauritius, there is need for the reengineering the fire legislation, he said.
The Government Fire Services currently operates 9 fire stations, manned by about 650 firefighters working round-the-clock on 4 shifts, and provides fire and emergency cover for the whole country. The firefighter-to-population ratio is of 1 firefighter on-duty for every 7400 in population. The Service has a fleet of about 30 fire fighting vehicles and responds to an annual average of 5000 – 6000 fires and about 2000 non-fire incidents.
The Control and Mobilising Centre located at the Government Fire Services Headquarters in Port-Louis, receives all incoming emergency calls on hotline 115, dispatches fire crews to incidents and monitors management of operations on incident grounds.
The Fire Prevention Unit carries out inspection of buildings, filling stations, fuel depots, gas installations, office and commercial buildings, places of public entertainment, and other premises prone to fire hazards throughout the island for the purpose of fire certification and registration. In addition, the Unit conducts fire safety educational programmes for various categories of target groups, including workers, students and citizens.
Timely disaster management
The Government Fire Services is now being renamed as the “Mauritius Fire and Rescue Service”, in order to encompass the core duties and functions of the Service, i.e. response to fires and provision of rescue services.Legal provision has also been made for the Service to participate in national schemes for the management, prevention, mitigation and reduction of disasters and to assist the National Disaster and Operations Coordination Centre set up by Government to ensure timely disaster management response.
The Government Fire Services is a key player in the Cyclone and Other Natural Disaster Scheme, the Port Disaster Management Plan, the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan. A National Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) Response Plan is currently being finalised, Mr Aimée stated.
The Fire Services Act (1954) required the Police to promptly alert the Service upon being itself informed of the outbreak of a fire and provide all necessary assistance to the Fire officer in charge on the emergency site. The new legislation is now extending similar duties to other stakeholders such as the Central Water Authority, the Central Electricity Board and other energy distributors/suppliers.
Fire and Rescue Training Academy
The new law also caters for the possibility of setting up Volunteer Fire Brigades to promote community participation and ensure promptness in response and better coverage in case of emergencies. Volunteer fire brigades will be set up according to established criteria and training and protective equipment will be provided by the Service.
Minister Aimée further announced that a plot of land has been identified at Riche Terre for the setting up of a Fire and Rescue Training Academy.
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