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Jamaica firefighters get state of the art training in rescue operations

BY JAVENE SKYERS Observer writer javenes@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, July 08, 2014    

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Jamaican firefighters recently benefitted from state of the art training in rescue operations through the non-profit organisation International Fire Training Force (IFTF) which has been exposing them to some of the latest techniques in the field.

Chief Executive Officer of IFTF Patrick McDermott, who is also of Jamaican birth, and his team were recently in the island conducting the International Fire Training Force Training on Automobile Extrication and Confined Space Rescue with personnel from the Jamaican Fire Brigade and the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ). The PCJ personnel were only trained in confined space rescue training.

The technical fire rescue classes, recently, held at Port Royal Police Station in Kingston included urban search and rescue, trench rescue, hazardous materials and collapse rescue.

At the training session, the particpants were trained to remove accident victims trapped in vehicles piled on top of each other. They were also taught how to remove victims trapped in small spaces that may contain hazardous air as well as how to protect themselves through the use of proper breathing apparatus.

"Jamaica sits on a fault line, so what happened to Haiti could very well happen in Jamaica, so Jamaica is now gearing up to be ready and prepared for when that happens," said McDermott, who is also a Chicago fireman.

He explained that some of the Jamaican firefighters who have benefited from IFTF training in the past were sent to Haiti to help in the rescue mission following the earthquake which devastated that country a few years ago.

McDermott, while lauding the cooperation received from Jamaica in facilitating the training sessions said one of the biggest challenge, was getting enough cars to use in the exercise.

"We couldn't get cars so that is a big issue for the firemen to practice how to do their jobs...they need the resources," he said.

According to McDermott there is a long procedure for the fire department to acquire old cars to use for this purpose.

"But I believe, my personal opinion is that it should be another process, one that is being used for public safety, there should be an escalated process so the fire department can get cars and then put cars back into the process," McDermott told the Jamaica Observer.

McDermott pointed out that there also needs to be better communication between public safety entities so that his company can come in and work "without the red tape".

"I know what the commissioner has to work with and he is doing a tremendous job", said McDermott as he lauded the efforts of Errol Mowatt, the deputy commissioner at Jamaica Fire Brigade.

Meanwhile, Deputy superintendent of the fire brigade Joshua Davis also lamented the difficulties the fire department had in securing cars for the training. He noted that this prevented the fire men from learning how to properly break windows without shattering the glass on the victim inside.

According to Davis, the inability to access enough old cars is a result of the scrap metal trade as nobody wants to give away their car when they can be paid by scrap metal dealers.

Davis, in commending the programme, said it is beneficial as many persons expect a fireman to be able to help in every situation regardless of whether they possess the knowledge and experience.

Meanwhile, McDermott who was born in St Ann, Jamaica, has been contributing time, money, equipment and knowledge to Jamaica and other Caribbean and South American countries for the past 15 years.

Having migrated from Jamaica in the early 1970's, McDermott originally read for a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science but later joined the City of Chicago Fire Department as a firefighter in 1994.

Quizzed as to the reasons for his career change McDermott said, "I think God leads you into different areas for a reason, I think everybody has a purpose".

He recounted a story from his childhood when a bakery next door his home in Crooksburn Pen caught fire and the owner ran back inside to get his money and was trapped. It was his mother who ran into the building to save the owner. This story, he said, was only told to him after he had become a firefighter.

He recounted a story from his childhood when a bakery next door his home in Crooksburn Pen caught fire and the owner ran back inside to get his money and was trapped. It was his mother who ran into the building to save the owner. This story, he said, was only told to him after he had become a firefighter.

"I was thinking, wow, you became a fire person before me", McDermott said, recalling the conversation with his mother.

However, his drive for starting a company to train firefighters came about from a conversation he had with the deputy fire commissioner in 2001 on one of his visits to Jamaica.

"After 9/11, I came to Jamaica and I had to come home because I needed a place where I could calm down cause we were walking on the bodies of 343 dead fire men and personnel", said McDermott.

When asked what he wanted, McDermott asked for equipment for Jamaica, Peru and Mexico. Three months later when he received a call from Jamaica that the firefighters did not know to use the equipment which consisted of self contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA) he returned with two colleagues to train them.

He continued to do this for some three to four years until he was approached by other countries who offered to pay him for his services.

It was then, McDermott said he realised he needed to establish a company.

"It wasn't me, it was purely God, not me, it was purely driven by God and I think we are doing a good purpose," the firefighter said while highlighting that two companies were then formed, the first, IFTF a non-profit company and International Training Force a for profit company.

The difference between the two companies, McDermott said, is that the paid programme offers certification in the programme and also trains military and police personnel.

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