Sept. 29, 2003 – The Northside Civic Organization decided on Sunday that, given Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's lack of response to its pleas to get the Dorothea fire station reopened, the most effective next step is a class-action lawsuit.
The organization has sent two letters and a petition to the governor along with a letter from Sen. Lorraine Berry urging him to reopen the fire station and to improve existing Fire Service conditions throughout the territory. (See "Fire concerns ignored, group to plan strategy".)
"This seems to be a very non-issue to the governor," Ann Durante-Arnold, president of the group, said at Sunday's meeting at Palms Court Harborview Hotel.
A lawyer has agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis and has begun working with the group, members were told on Sunday. Organization member Jason Budsan said on Monday that the group is proceeding with plans to file the suit.
Also discussed Sunday was the idea of asking the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate problems that were documented in a 2001 audit of the V.I. Fire Service by the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Inspector General and have yet to be addressed.
There also was talk of organizing a public demonstration, but Berry, a North Side resident, advised against going that route, saying that "a protest without a large number" of people would not be effective, "even though you represent thousands of people."
About 10 people were present on Sunday, with Berry the only public official in attendance. It was suggested that more residents might turn out for meetings if they were held in another venue, such as a church.
In addition to the need to get the fire station reopened, topics addressed included the territory's budget deficit, the condition of the Tutu fire station, the condition of North Side roads, revenue generation from fire inspections and the reduced funding for the Fire Service proposed in the governor's Fiscal Year 2004 budget.
Durante-Arnold said she hopes the Legislature will "have the intestinal fortitude" to loosen the purse strings and increase the Fire Service budget for the sake of the whole territory.
Daryl George, president of the St. Thomas-St. John district firefighters union, said seven more Fire Service employees may be called to active duty by the V.I. National Guard.
The Dorothea fire station, which reopened in June 2002 after having been closed for several years, was shut down again earlier this year after five firefighters were activated to serve in Iraq.
According to George, there are "75 people ready to be hired." And, he said, "we have promotions held up. That's not right. That shouldn't be."
Berry had suggested at the organization's Aug. 2 meeting with several government officials that the Dorothea fire station be staffed during the day while most people are at work and road traffic is heaviest. (See "Residents find little solace in meeting".) George, however, said on Sunday that "our worst fires on the North Side happen in the night."
It was suggested that the government could increase revenues by increasing the Fire Inspector's staff. "There is no cap you can put on the money" that the government can collect in inspection fees," organization member Gene LaPlace said.
There are three inspectors on St. Thomas and one on St. John, George said, and there is a need for 10 to 12.
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