When it comes to fires, search and rescue, protecting life and property and when disasters strikes there is no public and volunteer respectable service as a cities or nations Fire Departments. So when Costa Rica’s Finance minister, Fernando Herrero Acosta proposed a new tax plan this week to allocates a percentage of tax money for Education, social programs, security and justice for a total of 68 percent and administration increased expenses for 2,900 school teachers, 300 police officers and 200 prison guards, it was disturbing that no money was set aside for Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica or Costa Rica’s Fire Department.
Last October, a legislative proposal filed estimated that the Cuerpo de Bomberos de Costa Rica would run out of money in three years. Since, the fire department is looking for more funds keep their current operation going and to build more fire stations throughout the country.
This is what I found most disturbing, according to their website, there are “ONLY” 12 fire stations in Alajuela, 5 stations in Cartago, 9 stations in Guanacaste, 4 stations in Heredia, 4 stations in Limon, 11 stations in all of Puntarenas, and 13 in San Jose where most are located in and around the city.
The problem was the fire department had always been financed by the counties only insurance company, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS). But that changed in Oct, 2007, when the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was signed, which opened up the doors for international insurance companies, like Alico. Suddenly, Cuerpo de Bomberos was removed from the control of INS and was force to defend for themselves as a independent agency – which means if the fire department runs short of money, the INS institute can no longer help them.
Since CAFTA, the fire department has been most vocal looking for more funds, without success until last week when Flamingo residents complained that a fire truck never showed up at a field fire that was threatening homes and the residents ended up fighting the fire. Residents credited the saving of the homes when a tourist firefighter helped organized the residents and stopped the fire. Residents also express concern that the closest fire station is in Filadelfia and it would take a fire truck over an hour to arrive.
For years we have been told, residents have been asking for a fire station and a Cuerpo de Bomberos spokesperson said that there would be no new fire stations and new equipment because of a lack of funds.
Many of the existing stations have running on a shoe string budget for years even with the help of INS, and now it is worse, because much of the equipment is old or collecting rust because of needed parts.
The same problem is faced by residents of Tamarindo and many more expensive beach towns and developments along the Pacific coast. The Mecca of tourism, Tamarindo we were told does not have a fire station or even a truck. That community is also known for its extensive residential and commercial investments. One hour or less can be a sufficient amount of time for any luxury property to be reduced to ashes, let alone many others that happened to get in the way.
The problem is such a concern that some Pacific coast residents are taking matters in their own hands and are going to petition President Laura Chinchilla for some type of law for an assessment of 1.75 percent on most electric bills to help fund the fire departments. Those of low income would not have to pay the assessment. The money would then go to the Fire Department, but there is no estimate of how much money the proposed new electrical tax would bring to the fire department.
Will it happen? And will the government set aside some funds for this respected agency? Well, knowing government, we are not going to hold our breaths on it for to long.
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