Mayor Kevin Bernard: “I have heard the countless excuses after every fire – the trucks ran out of water, or they broke down, or the hoses couldn’t reach, or the equipment malfunctioned. None of those excuses are any comfort to those who have lost everything”.
In less than three months, another family of four, has perished in a fire that not only claimed their lives but left eleven of their surviving relative’s homeless.
This time, the victims are the Petillo’s who resided at the corner of Progress and Cinderella Streets in Orange Walk Town.
According to Police report, the fatal fire started sometime around 4 o’clock on last Sunday morning whilst the family was asleep, and by the time they were alerted the fire was a blazing inferno.
Two of the Petillo brothers could evacuate their families from the burning homes but Alfredo Petillo, 35, was not as fortunate.
He was able to first remove his common-law wife, Zelda Brown, and their youngest son from the blaze.
Once they were safe, he returned inside the burning structure to rescue his other children: Kevawn Clarke, Jayda and Mia Petillo.
Unfortunately, he was unable to evacuate them, and they were all burnt alive inside their bathroom while they held on to each other.
According to Brown, several calls were made to the fire station but there was no response. One of her brothers-in-law then drove to the station where he found firefighters reportedly sleeping.
He woke them up, but several minutes passed before they responded to the incident. However, upon their arrival they had less than five minutes of water to fight the blaze.
According to Brown, the firefighters sent for another truck, but it also came without any water.
Fire Chief, Ted Smith, confirmed that the fire originated from a stove.
However, he denied that his officers were late in responding to the fire. According to him, on average, his men would respond within two minutes to any incident.
He added that when his officers arrived on the scene, the three homes were already engulfed in flames.
In response to the claims that the fire trucks arrived with little or no water, Smith appeared combative.
He said, “For some reason, some reason it is expected that the fire service has unlimited water. We don’t carry the sea, the canal nor the heavens with us when we responded to a structure, and it’s not being sarcastic. It, being realistic.”
“We have small trucks that we responded that has limited capacity. We have a country that has limited hydrants and very poor flow. Until these things fixed then there will be limitations,” He added.
According to him, the nearest hydrant was almost a mile away.
Orange Walk Mayor, Kevin Bernard, has denied this claim made by the Fire Chief. He has provided the Belize Times with a list of hydrants in the town which shows one being exactly two blocks away from the blaze.
Mayor Bernard subsequently issued a statement registering his displeasure with the lack of preparedness by the National Fire Services.
“I have heard the countless excuses after every fire – the trucks ran out of water, or they broke down, or the hoses couldn’t reach, or the equipment malfunctioned. None of those excuses are any comfort to those who have lost everything,” the statement said.
He then went on to call on the Government of Belize to, “immediately address this situation.”
Since 2008, several Belizeans have perished in fires or have lost all the fruits of years of their labor.
In response, the Government of Belize has increased the number of fire fighters on duty. However, GOB has not made any real advancements in technology or the department’s ability to fight fire.
Mayor of Belize City, Bernard Wagner, who has been elected for less than six months, is already doing more than the entire ministry which has responsibility for the fire department.
Mayor Wagner has called for the Fire Chief and the Belize Water Services Limited to inspect all the fire hydrants in Belize City.
He has also called for these entities to recommend where new fire hydrants would be needed in Belize City.
Additionally, instead of waiting for these agencies, Mayor Wagner, has allocated several thousands of dollars to purchase fire detectors which his council will distribute to residents of Belize City.