A statement put out by the office of the Commissioner of Police on Monday 20th January 2020 entitled “Update to Fire at Grenville Street”, which said the fire which took place on the morning of 9th January, during which a substantial part of my medical clinic was destroyed and the majority of the contents therein, was disappointing, presumptuous and inflammatory.
The statement had nothing to say about the actual cause of the fire which I gather is still under investigation. However, because the clinic housed X-ray equipment, an alarm was sounded about the possibility of a health hazard and the negative impact on the environment and persons exposed.
It is ironic that these are considerations being made after the fact when that should have been one of the main concerns when the firemen were on the site trying to extinguish the fire. There was a big sign board advertising the services offered by the clinic among which were X-rays and greater effort should have been made to either save the building or evacuate the equipment before it was engulfed in flames.
Knowing that my building was the last to go down and no effort was made by the authorities to contact me in a timely manner to find out what health hazard was posed by the equipment in the building further adds insult to injury.
I was not even contacted by the authorities. The first indication I got that my building was threatened by fire, came from one of my employees who lives in Crochu, St. Andrew. Imagine that! That call came at 4.58 a.m.
A few days after the fire I was contacted by an official of the Ministry of Health who apparently went with an official of the Bureau of Standards, with a Geiger counter, an instrument used to detect level of radiation in the surroundings to determine levels of radiation in the building. He said he was surprised that they had found no radiation and he wondered why since he knew that I had X-ray equipment in the building.
I told him that his findings were consistent with the facts because my X-ray room was spared and the equipment was intact. Furthermore a new X-ray machine stored on the ground floor waiting to be installed also posed no threat because the head of the unit which produces radiation was stored in the X-ray room and was not destroyed by the fire. He said he was pleased and relieved to know that and that he could now close the case.
The police statement said that ‘no significant levels of radiation” were found instead of saying none is downright misleading and wrong. This is why I say the statement was inflammatory because it can easily have caused some level of panic and unease for those who might have been close to the building on the morning of the fire and now think that they were exposed to radiation.
Additionally, it can create fear among the general population and future patients who would think that the building is toxic and they should avoid going there, thus adversely affecting my practice.
The fact that no radiation was detected and no danger was posed to the population should not have warranted any statement at all. In fact, it should have been kept behind closed doors and not brought into the public domain while they discussed new protocols.
The statement also presumes that proper protocols were not put in place to mitigate a disaster of this kind if it were to happen. Let me state categorically that the proper regulatory protocols as it relates to the setting up of an X-ray room have always been followed.
The walls of the room are lined with lead and which are protective and as well as lead aprons which are used by patients and operator at all times. So in the case of this fire, the question of radiation is and was a moot and irrelevant one.
There was no necessity to put out such a statement which could only cause damage to the clinic and my reputation and unnecessary hysteria for the public.
To my mind what should have been the focus and what should be the focus going forward are the constant regulatory violations that take place as it relates to the derelict, abandoned buildings in the town which are fire and health hazzards and the need to either demolish them or make the owners accountable.
These buildings have become havens for drug addicts, vagrants and homeless people, as well as hiding places for items stolen during housebreakins. I have lost property and equipment to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars which could have been avoided if the abandoned dilapidated wooden structure next to my clinic had been removed or made to be removed by the owner because this is not the first time such an incident had taken place there. There was a similar fire about three years ago which could have had the same effect but did not.
Proper protocols need to be put in place to coordinate better and more concerted action between GRENLEC and the Fire Department because many eyewitnesses have publicly said that the delay by GRENLEC in turning off the electricity would have hampered the work of the firefighters.
When one would have thought that protocols were in place for dealing with such a catastrophe knowing full well that the Town of St George is vulnerable to such disasters, the reality is that there were none and if they were, then they failed dismally.
This is not the first and will not be the last fire to take place in the town. We have had experiences of bigger ones in the past and the possibility of another is right around the corner. Therefore there should be no further delay in adopting these protocols and implementing them immediately.
There should be constant drills and simulations and upgrades of equipment net and fire fighting materials, all geared toward bolstering the fire fighting capacity and capabilities of our Fire Department staff and volunteers.
I think it is extremely unfortunate the statement put out by the police about the threat of radiation from the fire but they would be better served to concentrate on protocols which are more important in mitigating fire, in evacuation and preventing significant loss of property, goods and equipment.
Dr. Terence Marryshow