Wayne’s love for helping people
WHEN THE BELL clangs a fireman has 60 seconds to suit up. He jumps into a fire truck with lights flashing and siren wailing, racing to the scene of disaster.
The fireman is like a soldier, ready to defend against a fearful enemy – blazes of destruction. Protecting the lives of civilians and properties is the duty of a firefighter and over the years it has become a code of honour for Wayne Vaughan.
“I was always fascinated by the big red truck, and when I was very young I saw the guys dressed in all blue uniform and bright yellow helmets fighting a fire and I said to myself that that is something I wanted to do.
“There was also a series named Rescue 51 about firefighters, and I enjoyed watching it as a boy.”
Although Wayne grew up idolising firefighters as heroes, it took a while for him to become one. After leaving The Lodge School, he worked at the Barbados O’ Level Institute and the principal of the educational facility at the time, Ishmael Roach, encouraged him to pursue his dream. However, it took two fire trucks speeding past him one morning while on his daily trek to work at a restaurant that prompted him
“I literally jumped for joy when I found out that I got in. But training wasn’t easy. Funny enough, I was scared of heights and I did not like to see blood. In my third week of training I had to climb up a ladder and carry someone on my back through a window. At the time I was 139 pounds. I kept repeating to myself that I must overcome this fear and I watched the others training with me do it. I used them to channel my spirit and I got it completed.”
During the three months of training, Wayne also realised that he was not as tough as he thought.
“When I joined some guys from the department used to say that you cannot be soft, that as a firefighter you have to be able to eat smoke but as I grew I realised that was not necessarily so.
“Over the years I have found that nothing is wrong with feeling emotional and having a good cry. Although we have to show no emotion, have a strong face and do it effectively, I always had empathy for individuals who lost everything.”
Friday, May 25, 1990. That is a day burnt into Wayne’s memory. Off duty, he was in a bus to The City when news of a freighting fire travelled from the front to the back of the bus he was in like the speed of light. When Wayne arrived in town huge orange flames were shooting sky high.
“When I saw the fire all I could say was wow. The fire was so large that I was called to work. It was by St Michael’s Row and Marhill Street. At that time I was not located in Probyn Street, I was based at the Worthing station and I sent for my gear up there.
“Part of me was saying, ‘Yes this is what you signed up for’ but another part said, ‘You got to be careful’.
“However, one of the things a fireman must respect is the character of a fire – a fire is a very good servant but a bad master. When I got on the scene the officer in charge said, ‘Vaughan, I want someone to go up on this ladder’. I managed to keep my fear under control. That day the fire almost consumed the entire block.”
Fifty fire officers, along with ten fire tenders from all available stations around Barbados, responded.
The supervisor of the Fire Prevention Unit has also rescued civilians in the course of his lifetime and recounted an incident in which an 11-year-old boy fell into a 20-foot well in St Thomas.
“There were four of us in the tender and once again I had to face my fear. I went down the well and started to talk to the lad. He told me his age. One of his teeth was knocked out and one of his legs was broken. He told me that the girls at his school would not like him anymore. He was still in primary school.
“Suddenly he said, ‘Fireman, I like you but I want to go to sleep’.”
Wayne’s training kicked in at this point and he knew the pre-teen was going into shock. Without hesitation he decided that he had to act quickly and could no longer wait on the ambulance to arrive.
“We never let someone go up and leave us in a well but I made the decision to do that that day. I took my harness off and told them to pull him up. The only thing I regretted was not getting his name so I could check up on him.”
The 51-year-old fireman has an impressive résumé. He went as far as Singapore to complete a training programme in 2003. Shortly afterwards he trained in Britain and in Kentucky, United States, where he developed a tight bond with classmates Patrick, Eddie, Mac and Marlon.
The father of two-year-old Jaivan Vaughan, Wayne said he is touched when people say thank you on his job.
“I want to set an example for my son and for him to be proud of me. Just like how my dad did.”