Upon arrival at the scene of the fatal Camp Street Prison fire, which left 17 inmates dead, Chief Fire Officer
Marlon Gentle revealed that he was verbally abused and spat on by prisoners.
In his testimony at the afternoon session of Wednesday’s Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into events surrounding the deadly prison fire, Gentle explained that the situation was very tense, noting that there was potential for “anything to happen”.
Due to the nature of the prison environment, he opined that inmates could have attempted a jail break. Attorney representing the Prison Service and Guyana Police Force, Eusi Anderson asked Gentle to detail the abuses which were hurled at him.
In his testimony, the Chief Fire Officer remembered vividly prisoners saying “Why the f**king Fire Chief coming now” and “we want to f**k up the prisons”.
“I was spit on by the same people [prisoners]; persons were rocking the fence,” Gentle further explained.
The Chief Fire Officer was questioned as to why he arrived at 11:59h after the Fire Service received the report at 11:18h. Gentle explained that he ensured that ambulances gathered as his deputy Compton Sparman related to him to expect casualties. He noted that when he arrived, he along with Police Commander Clifton Hicken and Deputy Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels tried to diffuse the situation.
Proceed with caution
The Commission was told that subordinate firemen were told to proceed with caution.
“The cautionary words were basically to alert them that this was not a normal situation, it was a riotous situation and they must be cognisant of their own safety,” Gentle recounted. In his explanation over what he heard over his radio set, the Chief Fire Officer explained that Fire Officer in Charge of Operations Compton Sparman was shouting “Enter with caution! Proceed with caution!” several times.
In trying to ascertain the available resources to the fire service, the Commission was told that there are 191 ranks in Georgetown (A Division) and that there is a more than 95 per cent compliment of ranks in the overall service. Gentle however admitted that the fire service does not have all that it currently needs. He revealed that the fire service is undertaking measures with stakeholders to fix many of the broken fire hydrants in the city.
Sophia Boucher, leading firewoman in the control room, was also called to testify as she was the officer on duty receiving reports at Central Fire Station, Stabroek between 11:00h and 14:00h. Upon inspection, Attorney associated with the Bar Association Glen Hanoman raised concerns that the logbook started on March 2, 2016, and as such, could not establish a flow of entries, thereby hindering its credibility. He then petitioned Commission Chairman James Patterson that its predecessor be tendered as evidence.
Her evidence corroborated the time when the report was received, when Marlon Gentle arrived, the time when the fire tenders were dispatched as well as the time when the ambulances were deployed.
In cross-examination, Attorney Hanoman postulated that Boucher assisted in “drafting up the logbook” for the purpose of bringing it to the Commission and that another logbook exists for March 2 and March 3.
“I am suggesting to you that you assisted in preparing a brand new logbook,” Hanoman said but the leading firewoman simply replied: “No, Sir.”
Eariler, another Fire Officer, Garfield Benjamin told Commissioners that the scene in the prison was “gruesome” and noted that he had never seen such scenes in his experience as a fire fighter. He stated that some of the bodies were packed on top each other – 12 were at the doorway and three were near the toilet area.
The witness related that he did not see any canister of tear gas at the scene on March 3.
In this morning’s session, Marlon Gentle will resume his testimony.