Fired up for the job
By Carlos Atwell | Fri, October 12, 2012 - 10:25 AM
The men and women of the Barbados Fire Service put their lives on the line every day to make sure Barbadians are safe.
This week, Street Beat visited the Probyn Street headquarters to take a look at them, their lives and the problems and triumphs they face.
Fire officer Carlos Bishop is a 19-year veteran who does not believe in stagnating. He has pursued many qualifications.
“I specialize in rescue,” Bishop said. “I was one of the first on the scene of [the] Campus Trendz [tragedy]; [the] Joe’s River [tragedy] and [the] Arch Cot [tragedy]. What I love about this job is that every day is not the same; it has taken me all over the world.”
Bishop said firefighters had to maintain an air of calm or else they would risk transferring any panic to the people they were supposed to be rescuing.
“After a while on the job, you develop how to subdue certain emotions as you are expected to be the superhero. So to get all emotional would not spell well to the person being affected. The rescuer being hysterical does not give the person confidence they can be rescued,” he said.
Bishop said witnessing loss of life was never an easy thing but it was part of the job, adding the Arch Cot tragedy was a special case.
“Prior to that, we had never fathomed something like that happening in Barbados. My training took me through certain procedures but it was a challenge and I think it was a learning experience as we came out of that with a view of increasing training and getting better equipment.”
Bishop said the days when fire officers could think only of operating in Barbados were gone as they could be called to other islands to assist. He said the Caribbean was not yet up there in terms of training but it was moving ahead.
“The training aspect is being developed. We look at the challenges and train persons to deal with them as well as try to deal with new challenges. We are also working on changing some of our standard operating procedures,” he said.
Bishop said being a fire officer had been his wish from schooldays and it had transformed his life. He said he did not mind being at the level of fire officer for so many years as it was really about personal development for him.
“I have a passion for this job, so any opportunity I get to advance my training, I try to capitalize on as it will ultimately benefit Barbados.
“For me, promotions are not a worry. My promotions come internally where I can see I have gone from one level to the next. I don’t come to work looking for a departmental promotion; my promotion comes from God,” he said.
Divisional Officer Evans Morris was passing through the station on business before heading back to the Grantley Adams International Airport where he is in charge of the fire station. He has been a fire officer for more than 40 years and gave his perspective on the changing nature of the job.
“Life is subject to change. Years ago, we had to use a body jack and crowbars to rescue people trapped in vehicles. Now we have the Jaws of Life. Plus, the training has really stepped up,” he said.
However, Morris said he was worried about the level of discipline and dedication in the department.
“Discipline is something we really have to work on. We were more dedicated back in the day. I would really like to see more dedicated youth coming into the service as the public depends on us,” he said.
After so many years, Morris said he was still in love with the job, adding: “The more you get into it, the more you love it.”
Natasha Forde is one of the newer officers with seven years under her belt. She said she used to be a clerical officer at the station but was not satisfied sitting behind a desk.
“When I saw what the guys were doing, I used to get an adrenaline rush. I prefer a hands-on job,” she said.
Forde said she loved her job and had goals to provide for her family and rise in the ranks.
“If you go in with a negative mindset, then it will be difficult. If you are comfortable with the same thing, there will be no room for growth. One has to keep bettering oneself and I am on the path of training and development,” she said.
Andrea Williams is counting 22 years in the service. She said her first time in the service was almost her last.
“When I started, I suffered a bad injury and I thought my career was over but when I returned to work, I spent five years in the office and then I was back onto active duty,” she said.
Williams said the compassion and camaraderie of her fellow officers helped her pull through as well as the support of her family, especially her husband and son.
Fire Officer Christopher Corbin drives the appliances. He said it was a job in which one had to keep a sharp eye on the road as Barbadians no longer respected the siren as they used to. He also complained of indiscriminate parking, especially on narrow areas.
Another problem firemen complained about was low water pressure. They said increased residential development had decreased water pressure in general so the service had to adapt. This was why it now used a 4 000-gallon water tanker to boost pressure at fires.
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