HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The city of Hartford 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. So some were surprised to learn this year that the small island community said it never arrived and was seeking 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.
Now the mayor is facing questions about the handling of the donation, and the city’s police department has opened an investigation. 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.
“Certainly, it would have been helpful for the council to know about questions about the first fire truck if the mayor was aware,” Wooden said. “It’s not clear to me what the mayor knew when.”
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. But Hartford is not the first city where such largesse has led to headaches for the mayor.
In Lawrence, Mass., prosecutors have alleged that a chief of staff to Mayor William Lantigua used his position to pressure an executive manager of the city’s trash contractor to donate a garbage truck to a town in Lantigua’s native Dominican Republic. Leonard Degnan was indicted last year on charges including solicitation of a bribe, extortion and conspiracy.
In Washington, D.C., council members raised questions in 2009 about the proposed donation of an ambulance and a fire truck to a town in the Dominican Republic. No criminal wrongdoing was found.
The case of the misplaced fire truck 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.
There were plans to deploy the fire truck on straighter, better-maintained roads along northern Jamaica’s coast. But 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.
Although the council gave its approval, Wooden said that was before he was aware another truck had been sent to Morant Bay. He said Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra has assured him that the truck will not go anywhere until the issue is resolved.
A spokeswoman for Segarra, Maribel La Luz, said the Hartford police investigation is under way and she did not have further comment.
Associated Press writer David McFadden in Kingston, Jamaica, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.