Our Community - Jerome Garcia - "Promoting 'pyro' prevention  in paradise"

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 12            April 3, 2003

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Jerome Garcia

The recent forest fire in Guatemala reminded us that fire prevention is one of the most important aspects of keeping our community safe. San Pedro needs dedicated individuals trained in the field of fire fighting, fire prevention, and emergency response who can be relied on when there is a crisis. Jerome Garcia, the Officer in Charge of the San Pedro Fire Department is one of these people who we can trust with our lives.

    Jerome was born on December 19th, 1959, in a small community (several houses), in the Stann Creek District where his father worked as a forest guard at the Melinda Forest Station. He was the fourth sibling in a family of nine children (four sisters and four brothers).

    A year after Jerome's birth, his father accepted the post of forest ranger at the Machaca Forestry Department, located in the Toledo District, where his parents also took up farming produce. Shortly after that, the family opened a grocery shop, and lumberyard in the area. Jerome attended primary school at the Fairview Roman Catholic School, and then attended three years of secondary school at St. Peter Claver High School in Punta Gorda Town. As a teenager, Jerome spent time with the lead firefighter of the local fire department, going to fires and watching him work. This man greatly influenced Jerome's life decision to become a fireman.

    At the age of 18, Jerome went to work for his parents as a shopkeeper, and lumberjack for a total of eight years. Jerome also spent five of those eight years as a relief driver for the fire department. He then returned to his parents' farm for another five years, and when the farming business didn't work out, Jerome went back to Punta Gorda Town to seek employment as an ambulance driver. He remained employed there for one year, but his heart was not in it. Jerome's real interest lay in battling the searing hot flames, so taking a chance, he applied for the post of firefighter for the town's fire department.

   September of 1986 proved to be when Jerome's dreams of becoming a firefighter would come true as he was accepted by the fire department, and joined the National Fire Service. Even though he had the ambition, he did not have experience, but this did not stand in Jerome's way, as there was plenty of on-the-job training. After learning the equipment and firefighting techniques and fire drills, he attended courses on leadership, management, and completed a fire investigator course in Virginia, USA. Furthermore, he took three separate courses in basic firefighting (Phases I, II, III). There were also performance reviews conducted every year on Jerome and other firemen to ensure that skills were up to date, and that they were best placed where they might make the biggest difference in their communities. Jerome accomplished a lot in his first eight years as a fireman. During the next eight years, he supervised other firemen, and eventually was promoted to lead firefighter. The Government of Belize (GOB) felt that he could teach others how to do the same. Jerome was employed by the Punta Gorda Fire Department for a total of nearly 16 years, before being transferred to San Pedro, where the National Fire Service felt  he was needed more.

    Jerome moved to San Pedro in August of 2002, with his common-law wife Adelina (from Big Falls), and their seven children. After eight months on the island, he has begun the process of making the community a safer place to live. The process began last year in Punta Gorda. Before Jerome could help others, he decided to help himself, so he went back to school at St. Peter Claver Extension, and passed an equivalency exam (with flying colors), thus completing his secondary school education. Jerome's long hours, dedication, and review had paid off.

    Currently, Jerome is furthering his education through a correspondence course offered by the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC), an educational package offered to firefighters all over Belize. Throughout the process of getting an education, he is sharing what he learns with the people of San Pedro, by writing a fire prevention column in The San Pedro Sun.

    Jerome and two other firefighters, Kenrick Russel and Denfield Dawson, make up the staff at the San Pedro Fire Department. Together, they share the 24 hours that make up the day, taking eight-hour shifts each. Although Jerome would like to hire more people, what he really needs are more volunteer firefighters, community members who manage fires themselves, while they wait for help to arrive.

    While it would be ideal for the fire department to have more volunteers, it is not a reality. Thankfully, according to Jerome, "San Pedro seems to be doing well, in terms of keeping the fire incidences low," and his Fire Prevention Tips in the newspaper can only aid this cause. Since the occurrences of fires are few, Jerome has had more time to spend with his wife and children, going home every evening to simply relax and enjoy life.

   Although Jerome loves San Pedro, his heart remains in Punta Gorda where he longs to retire, farm, or even open a restaurant. In the meantime, while fire continues to be the enemy, Jerome is the friend who keeps  homes, businesses, and other properties safe in "Our Community".

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