When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, local firefighters and rescue squads were ill-equipped to sufficiently assist their distressed neighbors. Located in a region susceptible to seismic activity and hurricanes, Haiti cannot afford to forgo having an effective and functional fire service for much longer. In order to improve these teams and establish Haitian capacity, the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) has committed to constructing 10 new fire stations and has selected ICMA to conduct an assessment of the existing procedures and develop recommendations for modernizing the Haitian fire service.
Over the course of the past few months, ICMA’s team, led by Chief Karls Paul-Noel, with former Port au Prince Airport Fire Chief Gael Painson, visited 10 designated cities (Port Au Prince, Cap Haitian, Hinche, Gonaives, Jacmel, Jeremie, Les Cayes, Miragoane, Ft. Liberté, and Port-de-Paix). They met with local government officials, including mayors, police officials, and firefighters, about the existing infrastructure, organizational framework, chain of command, function and capabilities of the local fire service and emergency medical response resources. In addition to examining the condition and status of available equipment, they inquired about levels of training, types of incidents responded to last year, and tactics used.
During the assessment, the team learned that Haitians view firefighting as an undesirable job for low-skilled workers, unworthy of prestige or merit. The value of a highly trained fire professional has not been acknowledged by Haitian culture until recently. Haiti’s fire service is nearly nonexistent in most of the country and in areas where there is a fire department, there are inadequate resources.
Based on their observations and conversations, the team then drafted a recommended organizational framework, designed a program of instruction for training personnel, and created a prioritized equipment list for a network of 10 new fire stations. The organizational framework outlined specific job positions, hierarchical levels of command, and roles and responsibilities. The plan also incorporates civil protection volunteers who have responded to disasters in the past.
Training has not been consistently available and was present primarily in the form of basic orientation for short periods of time to only a few individuals. Therefore, Chief Paul-Noel developed training curriculum and advised that every firefighter undergo a six- to eight-week course to receive firefighter certification. In addition, the team recommends that individuals receive a one-week basic medical training. There are no organized emergency medical services systems in Haiti currently, so this essential first responder training is necessary in order to eventually develop an EMS system. The completion of these two basic courses will set the foundation for all future and advanced training. The training curriculum and materials are based on those used in Canada, which are already presented in the French language.
During the site visits, the team determined that what little equipment exists was usually dilapidated and unreliable. The team completed a recommended list of equipment that can be found in the region and has been successfully used in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Recommended equipment ranges from a fully-equipped fire apparatus to trauma boxes and firefighter gear.
Haitian citizens and international aid entities like ICMA both share the desire and determination to establish viable, capable, functional, organized, and effective fire services. It will take much time and dedicated effort, but with these recommendations, the Haitian Fire Service will be able to better serve its country on a daily basis, as well as in the wake of future natural disasters.