July 29, 2006 – It was with a mixture of guarded optimism and cynicism that a handful of West End residents greeted dignitaries at the reopening of the Bordeaux/Fortuna Emergency Service Center on Saturday.
In fact there were nearly as many dignitaries in attendance at the event – held amidst intermittent downpours at the freshly painted center – as there were residents.
Among the dignitaries was Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, who after arriving more than an hour late, was met with murmurs of "twelve twenty." The event was announced for an 11 a.m. start.
Saturday was not the first time residents and dignitaries met at the same location to celebrate the opening of the center that houses the only emergency services in proximity to the island's West End residents.
In 1998 the Bordeaux Multi-Purpose Center was opened with much fanfare only to close again in 1999.
But Sheri Meyers, president of the St. Thomas West End Alliance, was adamant Saturday that this wasn't going to happen again. "Today we are appreciative of the efforts to reopen this much needed facility," Meyers said. "However, we charge our government leaders today, that a temporary facility will not do."
While hopes are high the center won't be temporary, it won't exactly be full time for awhile either. Overlapping services to be provided between the Police Department and Fire Services will see to it that the center is manned 24-7, but each will only offer a few shifts per day.
One police officer will be assigned to the center daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., according to Deputy Chief Elvin Fahie, who served as master of ceremonies Saturday.
Fire Services will have four firemen and two trucks at the center from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., according to Merwin C. Potter, Fire Services director. "The police will be our eyes and ears in the daytime," he said. "And then nights, we come in and be the eyes and ears."
Even at times when the center is unmanned officers of the "home fleet" are regularly patrolling the area. The home fleet program calls upon officers who live in the area to be "on call" and ready to respond to emergencies in their neighborhood.
The central command, Fahie said, has the officers' phone numbers and can call them at any time to respond. He said there are about 10 officers living in the Bordeaux/Fortuna area.
Emergency medical technicians are also expected to be part of the mix. Alexander Williams, Emergency Management Services district coordinator, said they will "try" to have EMTs on premises from 3 to 11 p.m. a few days a week at first.
He said his department, however, is extremely short staffed. Williams, who has been a Bordeaux resident for 23 years, said he hopes to meet with Health Commissioner Darlene Carty soon to work out a way to bring on more EMTs. He said there are 22 for the entire island of St. Thomas "That's for 24-7," he said. "It's impossible."
Fire Services is in a better position having been appropriated $1.2 million to hire more personnel and purchase equipment specifically for the Bordeaux center. Potter said a class of 10 trainees will start training on Sept. 11, followed by another class of 20 in October. He said the firefighters who will serve the West End community are cross trained to be first responders.
In his opening remarks Fahie said, "We won't be able to go full speed ahead, but it's a start."
Start or not, Meyers said there is power in numbers and she said the area has experienced tremendous growth in the 30 years since the Bordeaux Homeowner's Association, represented Saturday by its president, Clarence Nibbs, had been formed.
"As one resident asked me, 'What is the difference between now and before; we have fought this fight for some 30-plus years and all we received was empty promises.'" In answer, Meyers said, "The magic word is numbers … by us standing together for the same cause we have become a mighty army, a force to be reckoned with."
Meyers proposes that the West End Alliance – which is known by and carries the acronym, WE ALL – be the umbrella organization under which all individual homeowner organizations in the west would fall. The includes twelve separate neighborhoods ranging from Estate Pearl, Bonne Esperance and Preservation Bay on the east to Fortuna, Bordeaux and Botany Bay on the West. It includes other activist groups such as the Bordeaux Farmers.
It was in October of last year that about 50 West End residents called for a meeting with the lieutenant governor and others to demand that the center be reopened. ( See "West End Residents Make Their Case for Emergency Services.")
Richards, who is running for governor this year, said Saturday that after "many, many meetings" he was happy to be attending the reopening. "The community is better off today for the opening of this facility."
Fahie said he had heard grumbling that the effort to reopen the facility was politically motivated because it happened to fall in an "election year." And one resident, Wingrove Fenton, was not shy about saying it was a "campaign move."
But Meyers was clear after the presentation that she expected the politicians to be good to their word. "Your word is your bond."
Community activist and North Side Civic Organization member Jason Budsan – who is familiar with the issue of trying to keep emergency services open in the island's more remote locations from his work getting the Dorothea Fire Station reopened – said Saturday that Bordeaux faced the same issue as Dorothea. "Just like Dorothea, it opened and it closed."
He said, "I want to see continuous funding [for emergency services]. The residents deserve it." Along with the previously mentioned officials, also in attendance were James McCall, assistant Police commissioner; former Fire Services director and Sen. Carlton Dowe; Sen. Louis P. Hill; Noreen Michael, Education commissioner; Harold Baker, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency; and Steve Parris; deputy director of VITEMA St. Thomas-Water Island.
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