All my life I’ve lived under the expectation that there are certain things people can expect as a basic of part of living in a fairly developed nation. These include indoor plumbing (though not necessarily hot water), sewage systems (as opposed to open drainage on streets), and basic civil services including police and fire department response teams. Yesterday I learned that not all developed, or mostly developed nations, are so lucky.

We were sitting on the boat organizing some things yesterday afternoon when Jason looked up and noticed flames coming from the woods across the street. It was windy and they were spreading pretty quickly (it’s dry season here), so we walked over to the fence to check it out further and notified people at TTSA so they could call the proper authorities. When we got over there, it was apparent that a homeless man who had been living in the woods must have started it accidentally, because he dashed out of the woods with several bags and belongings in his arms and skedaddled down the road, looking back all the way. So, we watched the fire burn and awaited the fire departments’ imminent arrival as the fire worked on leaping from bush to bush. After about 30 minutes of waiting, it appeared to have crept into the underbrush, because 30 or so yards away we could see spots in a few different places that were beginning to send up smoke. Meanwhile the initial fire had turned hot and black, billowing clouds of smoke from what must have been the homeless man’s cache of tires or something of that nature in the woods.

Wildfire

The man who came out of the woods is standing toward the bottom left corner.

We went back over to the TTSA bar to check on the status of the fire brigade. Word was they were “busy fighting another fire” and this one would have to wait. So the fire burned on at least an hour or so until it made its way up and over the hill and was well beyond corralling with anything other than aerial means. When the truck finally arrived, the shoddily dressed firemen, donning their cotton t-shirts and leaky fire hose, made their way into the edge of the woods and sprayed what they could, but what with water restrictions and all plus the fact that the nearest fire hydrant is over a mile away, at this point they believed the best choice was to simply wet the area that their hose would reach thoroughly, and let nature work itself out. I can understand this approach since we all know that an occasional forest fire keeps the underbrush thin and keeps huge blazes from taking hold, but I guess what struck me was the response time on something like this. In the U.S., in an area this suburban, it would have been a matter of five minutes and the whole thing would have been out.

Commenting on the same topic, our cab driver mentioned last night that the fire brigade in Trinidad is so unreliable that if your house catches on fire, you are best off not calling them at all because by the time they get there the whole place will be burnt to the ground anyway. “Get a hose and start puttin water on it yuhself if you want it out.”

I guess we Americans still have some things to count our blessings about when it comes to government services.

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