The Hartford (CT) police department has opened an investigation into the handling of a donated fire truck, while the mayor has drawn questions about the handling of the donation.
The city agreed five years ago to donate a used fire truck to a sister city in Jamaica, Morant Bay, and the truck was sent off to the Caribbean.
This year, officials learned that the small island community claims to have never arrived it and desired another truck.
The 100-foot ladder truck did make it to Jamaica, but island officials decided its large size made it better suited to a suburb of the capital city, where it remains in service.
The vehicle transfer was coordinated by one of the department’s own officers, Jamaica-born Sgt. Andrew Lawrence, who is also president of the Caribbean Trade Council of Hartford.
The city council president, Shawn Wooden, said he only learned about the donation after the council voted in January to donate another fire truck to Morant Bay.
It’s not unusual for cities to donate decommissioned emergency vehicles to poor Caribbean islands, particularly cities like Hartford with large West Indian populations, as a gesture of goodwill.
Similarly, in Washington, D.C., council members raised questions in 2009 about the proposed donation of an ambulance and a firetruck to a town in the Dominican Republic. No criminal wrongdoing was found.
The case of the misplaced firetruck from Hartford appears to boil down mainly to miscommunication.
Robert Montague, who served as Jamaica’s minister for local government when the decommissioned fire truck was donated, said the Caribbean island’s National Works Agency decided that the 1984 Sutphen was too big to handle the narrow, rutted roads of Morant Bay, the small southeastern town that is Harford’s sister city.
“It’s an exceptionally long unit and they had concerns over the weight and length on the small roads in the rural town. As a matter of fact, initially the recommendation was to turn down the offer,” said Montague, now the chairman of the main opposition Jamaican Labor Party.
Eventually, the Jamaica Fire Service decided to transfer the donated truck to the fire station in the southern city of Portmore, a growing bedroom community just outside of the capital of Kingston. In a letter provided last week to the city of Hartford, the Jamaican government offered assurances the truck was received and being put to use.
The request for another fire truck was reportedly made by Morant Bay’s mayor, Marsha Francis, who did not return calls to her office seeking comment.
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