Seven St. Thomas firefighters hired in 2019 face termination for refusing to complete Emergency Medical Technician training, Daryl A. George Sr., director of the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services, told legislators Friday.
EMT certification, which can be completed in less than 30 days, is required by many rescue and law enforcement entities, lifeguards, ski patrol, athletic trainers, as well as recreational guides and ambulance medics throughout the United States.
The 21 firefighters hired by FEMS in 2019 were required to be EMT certified but seven have held out, George told senators during a hearing of the Budget, Appropriation and Finance Committee.
“We’re still going through the issue. We have recently made a decision,” he said. “We will have to start the process of terminating because they are not trying to meet us halfway. It’s rebellious and very distracting because the more we try to help the more we’re getting pushback.”
The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians trains first responders in emergency cardiology and resuscitation, trauma, medical obstetrics and gynecology, airway, respiration and ventilation, and other emergency medical service operations.
Committee chairwoman Donna Frett-Gregory shook her head in seeming disappointment.
“You have to do what you have to do,” she said.
Other personnel issues arose during the hearing. Frett-Gregory appeared dismayed that FEMS had not supplied the committee with a complete list of staffing. The senator and fire department officials went back and forth about how many of the 319 total employees were on each island district.
Fire Prevention Unit staff were doing hazardous duty without being paid the extra amount given to hazardous duty employees, George said.
Sen. Franklin Johnson and others urged George to properly allocate pay for hazardous work.
“It’s so unfair what we do to our people, going out and working in these conditions and not being compensated properly,” Johnson said.
Elsewhere, federal funds were not distributed to FEMS employees, although George acknowledged they should be.
“Pay the people, man. Give the people their money,” Frett-Gregory said. “I don’t understand the challenges in paying the people. I just don’t get it.”
Additional confusion arose around how two FEMS employees were being paid while training in Maryland. The non-governmental organization Love City Strong was helping pick up expenses for the training — saving the Virgin Islands government roughly $80,000, FEMS officials said.
In 2024, FEMS hoped to hire 10 new firefighters, five paramedics, and five EMTs in both districts, George said.
Away from the personnel issues, FEMS was still working to repair damage from the 2017 hurricanes.
“We have made significant progress in the endeavor,” George said.
Around $47 million has been obligated to reconstruct parts of the St. Croix’s Charles A. Seales Fire Station and Renceliar I. Gibbs Fire Station. Wind-proof safe rooms and new generators at the Herbert L. Canegata Fire Station and Emile Henderson Sr. Fire Station in St. Croix were on the way.
Repairs were also needed at the Junior Firefighter Building in Estate Slob, St. Croix, the Emile Berry Fire Station in Dorothea, St. Thomas, the George P. Scott Maintenance Building and Fire Station in Anna’s Retreat, St. Thomas, and the Fortuna/Bordeaux Fire Station. The Omar Brown Sr. Fire Station in Estate Taarneberg, St. Thomas, also needed reconstruction. In St. John, repairs were needed at the Robert O’Connor Fire Station in Cruz Bay and reconstruction at the Coral Bay Fire Station, George said.
“Work on three projects commenced this fiscal year. The repair and hardening of the Emile Berry Fire Station on St. Thomas began in January and completion is anticipated in the fall. The repair of the George P. Scott Maintenance Building began in June, and completion is also expected in the fall. On St. Croix, the demolition of the Charles A. Seales Fire Station was substantially completed, and construction services are being solicited,” he said.
In 2024, Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services hoped to expand its vehicle fleet and marine unit.
“Seven new ambulances will be purchased for the territory with $1.8 million appropriated in the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act,” George said. “In addition, two rescue vehicles will be procured utilizing a DOI TAP grant award. If DOI also approves a pending grant application submitted to its Maintenance Assistance Program for $185,891, a brush truck will also be purchased for the St. Croix District.”
FEMS plans to use $1 million locally appropriated funds to procure a firefighting boat and train personnel.
On land, the fire department added five fire-fighting vehicles. Two were “specially designed for St. John’s terrain and have been assigned to that island,” George said.
“In addition to response vehicles, we also received cascade systems for the islands of St. Croix and St. John. These essential pieces of equipment are used to refill the self-contained breathing apparatus firefighters use during firefighting operations. Both systems were purchased with a DOI-TAP grant award totaling $122,000.”