Ja Fire Brigade of­fi­cer blaz­ing a trail of her own

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Ju­dana Mur­phy/Gleaner Writer ju­dana.mur­phy@glean­erjm.com

FOR 23 years, Terri Ann Les­lie has been cool­ing tem­pers, ex­tin­guish­ing blazes, and ex­tri­cat­ing peo­ple from crashed ve­hi­cles in the western parish of St James.

The as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent is one of two fe­males in the Ja­maica Fire Brigade (JFB) who is this year be­ing con­ferred with the medal of hon­our for meritoriou­s ser­vice, along­side 16 male col­leagues.

The hon­our is awarded to of­fi­cers and other mem­bers of the uni­formed ser­vices who have per­formed dis­tin­guished ser­vice or have dis­played dis­tin­guished con­duct or brav­ery.

Les­lie told The Gleaner that ini­tially, she had no de­sire to be­come a fire­fighter.

In­stead, she had a pas­sion for help­ing peo­ple and had her sights set on be­com­ing a nurse.

But when the JFB launched the Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices (EMS) in 1996, it grabbed her at­ten­tion.

Op­er­a­tions be­gan in the western towns of Sa­vanna-la-Mar and Ne­gril in West­more­land; Iron­shore in St James; and Lucea, Hanover.

The then 20-some­thing-year-old com­pleted fire­fight­ing train­ing prior to be­com­ing an emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cian (EMT).

“That was a para­mil­i­tary train­ing that takes on a lot of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, but the EMT train­ing was more the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal,”she said, adding that it also re­quired fo­cus and the abil­ity to re­tain a wealth of knowl­edge.

“I’ve never gone in the EMT depart­ment to work be­cause of the love I de­vel­oped for sup­pres­sion, which is the fire­fight­ing as­pect. Also, af­ter con­duct­ing some back­ground re­search about the scope for mo­bil­ity in that depart­ment, it would have been very [slow] in terms of ris­ing to of­fi­cer level,” the 43-year-old shared.

HIS­TORY-MAKER

Les­lie has not only bat­tled flames, but blazed a his­to­ry­mak­ing trail, be­com­ing the first fe­male in St James to be pro­moted to the ranks of sub­of­fi­cer and of­fi­cer, gain­ing the first af­ter four years of ser­vice and the lat­ter six years later.

Les­lie be­came an as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent in 2019 and is cur­rently as­signed to the JFB head­quar­ters as act­ing re­search and de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer.

Though she can­not re­call the first emer­gency she re­sponded to, etched in her mem­ory are a few rec­ol­lec­tions of sor­row and ju­bi­la­tion ex­pe­ri­enced on scenes over more than two decades.

She re­called see­ing “just charred re­mains that were left of the el­derly per­son be­cause of the type of dwelling con­struc­tion and the dis­tance from the fire sta­tion to the scene” on one oc­ca­sion.

She also re­counted that the sta­tion re­ceived a call about a mo­tor ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dent where per­sons were trapped and see­ing three fa­tal­i­ties on ar­rival at the scene.

“It is still vivid in my mind be­cause it was dur­ing the Christ­mas sea­son, which is about hap­pi­ness and be­ing with loved ones,” she said.

Les­lie con­tin­ued:“We know that we can be faced with death any time, but it is a bet­ter feel­ing when we know that we have saved a life.”

Ex­pres­sions of grat­i­tude flowed at a ten­e­ment yard in Mount Salem, Mon­tego Bay, as the brigade re­sponded to a call that a sin­gle dwelling was on fire.

“I re­mem­ber the divi­sion had re­sponded with their main pumper to an­other in­ci­dent when this call

was re­ceived, and I was the of­fi­cer in charge of that small unit, which had to re­spond un­til we got as­sis­tance from other units,” she said.

With the help of a water ten­der, the team man­aged to sur­round the fire and pre­vented it from spread­ing to the other homes in the yard.

“The risk was great, given the close prox­im­ity to other houses. The peo­ple were de­lighted, and I even did a tele­vi­sion interview. It was a pos­i­tive story in me­dia that day,” she re­called.

About the hon­our she will re­ceive, Les­lie said: “I am elated. Af­ter 23 years, there has been some amount of achieve­ment, and so to get the medal of hon­our for meritoriou­s ser­vice is just an added ac­com­plish­ment.

“The fact that this is a male­dom­i­nated or­gan­i­sa­tion, it shows that there isn’t any­thing that we are short of.”

The Govern­ment will use a vir­tual for­mat for the 2020 Cer­e­mony of I nvesti­ture and Pre­sen­ta­tion of Na­tional Hon­ours and Awards ow­ing to the COVID19 pan­demic. It will be broad­cast on tele­vi­sion and on so­cial me­dia on Na­tional He­roes Day, Oc­to­ber 19, start­ing at 8:30 a.m.

CON­TRIB­UTED

As­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent Terri Ann Les­lie.

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