IN the popular tourist destination Puerto Viejo, arapidly growing town on the southern Caribbean coast, ahouse fire is basically a lost cause. While the communityis filled with wooden homes, gas kitchens and all themodern electric amenities, the nearest fire station is atleast an hour away, in the port capital of Limón, 46 kilometersnorth along the coast.“In Puerto Viejo, in 100 meters you have 18 businesses,”explained Edwin Patterson, legislator for the minorityCitizen Action Party (PAC), who last month released astatement decrying the lack of a fire station in the southernCaribbean canton of Talamanca, where he is from.“IN every one of the communities of the district ofCahuita, fires, with very few exceptions, have ended in atotal loss of infrastructure,” the statement said.In Costa Rica, fire stations fall under the jurisdictionof the National Insurance Institute (INS). According toPatterson, two years ago he spoke with the then-directorof INS, Germán Serrano, who told him there was astrong chance of getting a fire station built in the southernCaribbean area, and that all that was needed was forthe community donate a piece of land for the station forthe process to be started.Supporters of the project had managed to locate aproperty in the nearby community of Hone Creek, “anintermediary point in the canton of Talamanca, a shortdistance from the district of Sixaola, practically the chief city of the canton, and more importantlyclose to the sites of highest vulnerability,”Patterson’s statement explained.A fire truck and ¢20 million (approximately$50,000) were already set aside forthe project, according to the legislator, andthe Hone Creek Integral DevelopmentAssociation had a piece of property readyto transfer to the INS.Then, in Patterson’s words, “As witheverything in Talamanca, the politiciansgot their hands on it, and it ended there.”The Tico Times was unable to findout why the property was not transferredto INS.Patterson said he believes his politicalopponents “moved their chips” to blockthe fire station from being built, simplybecause he was the one pushing the project.He claims other projects of his havebeen blocked before because he was theone promoting them.Patterson added that he has renewedhis efforts to bring a fire station to theTalamanca region and has tried to make anappointment with the new executive presidentof INS, Luis Javier Guier, for morethan a month, but Guier’s office would notget back to him. The INS press office,however, told The Tico Times Pattersonhad never called the director’s office.CARMEN Gamboa, a legislator forthe majority Social Christian Unity Party(PUSC) from Limón, said the project nevertook off because “the plans were never followedthrough,” due to “problems in thecommunities.” Gamboa said she agrees afire station in Talamanca is needed, and sheis now following up on the project.She told The Tico Times she recentlymet with Guier and they are working towardgetting a fire station built in the area –though she could not say when or where.According to Hector Chávez, generaldirector of the Firefighter Corps of INS, afire station in Talamanca is not on the horizon.The process of getting a fire station,which can take up to two years, cannotstart until land is donated to INS for thatpurpose, Chávez reiterated, and no landhas been made available.“A lot of communities want fire stations,”Chávez said. “But when it comestime to decide where, we decide by wherethere is already a piece of property in thename of INS.”He explained that it looked like thisyear, INS would be building a fire stationin the Northern Zone region of La Fortunade San Carlos, where two weeks ago aMegasúper grocery store burned downafter it took firefighters 40 minutes to getthere from Ciudad Quesada, and as wellas a couple of other communities.“All communities are important,”Chávez said, “but which is most important?”FOR Rolando Soto, president of theSouthern Caribbean Tourism Chamber, thesituation demonstrates a continued lack ofconcern for the issues of region.“With the projects of governmentinstitutions for the southern Caribbean, ingeneral, the directors, the politicians andthe President of the Republic arrive andoffer a better highway, firefighters, anaqueduct, and from there, nothing happens,”Soto said. “I believe many governmentofficials and institutions are notvery interested in the Caribbean,” hesaid. “There is not positive energy towardthe region.“Every day there are more installations:hotels, where people stay; restaurantswhere there are kitchens with electricityand gas; discotheques, where a lot ofpeople go, and there is absolutely nothingto put out a fire,” Soto said.THE community of Puerto Viejowitnessed a tragic reminder of this Oct.30, 2004, when a U.S. citizen died in ahouse fire.The body of Daniel Loroin, 49, wasfound one meter from his door – leadingauthorities to believe he had attempted toget out of the house. Firemen, comingfrom Limón, did not arrive on the sceneuntil one hour after neighbors reported theblaze (TT, Nov. 5, 2004).