New V.I. Fire Service St. John Chief Winifred Powell did not hesitate when asked at a June 5 public hearing about her department’s ability to fight a fire in a four-story building such as those proposed for the controversial 47-unit Sirenusa condominium project.
“We do not have the equipment to handle a four-story building on St. John,” Chief Powell said in response to a question from an opponent of the Sirenusa condominium project zone change. “That has been a concern.”
While St. Johnian Senator at Large Carmen Miranda Wesselhoft later dismissed Powell’s concern by saying the fire service didn’t have capacity for fighting fires in tall buildings on St. Thomas either, Powell reiterated her warning about emergency services to the now 47-unit project in an interview June 7.
“It’s a nightmare,” said the St. Johnian fire official. “I live in that area in a small apartment and I don’t understand how it could have been approved in the first place.”
Concentration of Buildings Is Concern
Chief Powell is more concerned about her department’s ability to fight a fire in any building in the 15-building cluster of the Sirenusa project than on the heights of the individual buildings.
“All those units aren’t sprinkled,” Powell said of Sirenusa. V.I. Code only requires buildings of “four stories and above” to be equipped with sprinklers, the fire chief explained.
“Having so many buildings clustered so close together, it’s going to spread from one to another,” the fire chief said of the smaller buildings in the project.
No Input in Fire Safety Planning
The territory’s fire and emergency services have had no input design of the Sirenusa, Powell told St. John Tradewinds.
Chief Powell, the first female Fire Chief in the territory’s history and the daughter of a respected Fire Service veteran, said she has no knowledge of what water service there will be to the 15-building complex on five acres of land overlooking Enighed Pond and Cruz Bay.
“Do they have hydrants? Water? Otherwise we’re going to run out of water in minutes and have to go down to refill,” she explained.
“We need to get trucks with water up there and the roads aren’t wide enough,” Powell added.
As a neighborhood resident, Powell said she knows the planned traffic flow into and out of the project is unworkable for small vehicles, and inadequate for emergency vehicles.
Road Access Is Limited
“I don’t understand,” said Powell, who acknowledged there were numerous private homes on the island with limited access, as well. “It’s just common sense.”
The St. John Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Committee approved the original 40-unit, 28-building Sirenusa project while under the direction of long-time chairman Julien Harley, a retired fire service officer who continued to chair the CZM while serving as St. John Administrator during the entire eight-year Turnbull Administration.
The “powers that be” who approve projects have to consider emergency services in their decisions, Powell reiterated.
“By the time it gets built, to the emergency response people it’s too late,” she said.
Required fire protection measures will be taken in the Sirenusa buildings, including the use of fire-retardant materials, developerCarol Marzano told St. John Tradewinds in an interview after the June 5 town meeting.
“It’s fire retardant, it’s not fire proof,” Powell added.