THEY have been stationed at almost every public event ever held in Jamaica over the course of their 114-year history of service.
They man the ambulances parked inconspicuously on the sidelines at carnivals, football matches, military occasions, horse-racing and royal visits, among other major public events.
They provide first-aid training to students and the employees of a wide variety of organisations including bauxite companies, other commercial and industrial companies, schools, hotels, sports clubs, banks, churches, junior doctors and nurses from hospitals, youth clubs, the police, military, fire brigade, the airport authority and airlines.
They are the St John Association of Jamaica, commonly known as St John Ambulance: a charitable organisation committed to saving lives, minimising pain and promoting humanitarian and charitible ventures intended to relieve distress, suffering, sickness and danger.
St John was established in Jamaica in 1899, when, during the Second World War, St John members served at the refugee and internment camps at Mona and at Kingston Public Hospital. St John has also rescued and cared for the sick, injured and homeless victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters.
In 2011, St John Jamaica had 80 adult volunteers and 170 cadets based all around the island who provided over 16,000 hours of service to Jamaicans and trained over 1,000 people.
Those who know the backstory say much of the charity's longevity and success in this country has come, in part, from the sheer determination and dedication of two of its longest-serving, living members who are fondly referred to as 'The Two Clems'.
Clembert Powell and Nurse Marie Clemetson have devoted more than half their lives to the charity; 58 and 53 years, respectively.
For Clembert Powell the journey with St John Ambulance started in 1955, against his will, but he hasn't regretted it.
"As a youngster coming up, I hated to see blood. And you would not get me pass a hospital," Powell confessed to the Jamaica Observer, as he and the other 'Clem', Nurse Clemetson sat in the Jamaica Observer's meeting room recently.
He said he was, literally, dragged into service.
"In September 1955 when I was working at a magazine place there was a lady there who was working at St John and she said I could be an asset," he explained.
"She and another of her female co-workers held me by both arms and dragged me along the street to 121 Duke Street, where a first-aid class was in session by then Assistant Commissioner David Chase and they handed me over to him. From there, there was no looking back. Never a dull moment," he quipped, reminiscing.
By December that year, Powell was officially a member of the St John Ambulance team. He got promoted two years later to corporal, then to skip sergeant. In 1961, Powell was promoted to venerable position of bearer of the St John flag, which he proudly held aloft at the annual simultaneous worldwide celebration of St John's Day. That same year he became an active secretary for the St John council. Also in 1961 Powell was made a trainer, teaching first aid islandwide and winning the all-island competition as a trainer three years in succession. But St John still wasn't done with him.
He was promoted to divisional superintendent in charge of a division in the St Andrew area. He branched out and formed another division, which was known as the Combined Headquarters Division.
"Along the line I was promoted to staff officer and became the commissioner for the South East Area and director of training for Jamaica," he said. "Even when they had the World Cup in 2000, they asked me to go to Antigua. I was there for two weeks training the army and the hoteliers, teaching them first aid," Powell said proudly.
While he worked his way up the ranks within the charity, Powell was also working his way up in similar fashion as an officer of the Island Special Constabulary Force, retiring eventually in 1990 as Commandant.
Today the lecture hall at Harmon Barracks in Kingston is named after him.
Powell, who is now 85, said he will go to his grave as a St John member.
Service was the natural order of things for the fairer of the two Clems — Nurse Clemetson having grown up in a close-knit family with four sisters. It was boarding in a convent at the age of five while her mother was expecting her fourth child that Clemetson learned to appreciate the beauty of serving others.
"It's just a natural thing for me," Nurse Clemetson said. "Having the type of family that I had, it was easy to share and easy to do the things I have done."
Clemetson started with St John Ambulance in 1960 as an examiner for the St John trainers. A trained nurse herself, it was easy to step into the trainer's role after two others resigned in 1980. But even prior to that she was invited to be a member of the council, which is the governing body of St John in Jamaica. She was later made an officer of the order and a serving sister. Clemetson received the Badge of Honour as a Sister of the Order by the current Queen.
Three years ago she became a commander of the Order. Today she is still very active as a member of the council, a nursing superintendent and island officer, overseeing all the nursing sisters of St John in Jamaica.
"Being a part of St John has made it a much fuller and richer life for me," Clemetson said in her soft voice. "It impacted on personal relationships with members, not only in Kingston but throughout the island, as well as being able to work along with the people who sit on the council — the organising and planning groups."
Clemetson was also the nurse at the Queen's School in Kingston for nearly 20 years, and is now very involved with the Red Cross after being asked, while at Queen's, to be the link patron overseeing students who were members of that charity.
The two Clems have done much over their half-centuries with St John together, as well as apart.
"We taught first aid all over," Powell said. "The only place we did not teach first aid was under the water. Air Jamaica, for example, we started the first first-aid class with them in 1961 and we have been training their air attendants and the captains and their pilots, and others like American Airlines. We have trained people in every facet of life. Every industry, all over the place. I used to train captains for the ships."
And while they have not done first-aid training underwater, many lifeguards have received training through them.
"And that's how it goes down the line. The police are trained and received certificates, so automatically they are a member of St John, the fire service, the correctional service and some of the military.
One of Clemetson's proudest ventures was St John introducing primary health care service in the inner city.
"One of the things I felt was very meaningful, and which I am very sorry is not as active as it should be now, is a primary health-care project in Allman Town, of which I was a part of a committee that helped to spearhead it."
The two Clems agree that, sadly, the work of St John is not as popular in Jamaica as it once was.
"For example, in business, there is a law known as factory law where there must be a first-aider on each shift," Powell explained. "But managers ignore it. So they do not care about that part of people's lives until something happens. The object of first aid is to teach people to preserve life, promote recovery and prevent worsening of (a victim's) condition until medical aid is available," he said.
St John lacks the funding it needs to operate effectively, they added.
"St John used to ride high. For example, in Montego Bay in the 60s there were 16 nurses and seven doctors on St John staff. But in the 70s it started to wane because all over the world people became less interested in that part of life," Powell said. "It's not that we have not been making an effort to budget, but we need money. When we ask people to come on board, of course they ask what's the monetary remuneration that they will be getting. And when they hear they back out, because it's a voluntary service."
Clemetson said there was a time when the island relied almost solely on the help of St John as the primary first-aid respondents in a medical crisis.
"We can go back to the Kendall Crash (Sept 1957). When that happened, there was no team in the ministry of health. What happened in terms of aid then could not have happened without the help of St John," she said.
Incidentally, the Kendall crash was one of the first locations to which Powell was sent shortly after joining the service.
Clemetson also pointed out that efforts to set up community programmes had faltered because residents could not appreciate that they themselves could become first-aid responders, especially in the event of a natural disaster such as a hurricane.
"If they could be made to feel that they could become self-sufficient, if they had the knowledge and the training to help each other, then it would work," Clemetson said.
"In recent times the administration in the ministry of health are looking at the role they can play in becoming efficient first-aiders, and there is a lot of emphasis on training paramedics."
But, according to Powell, there is no subsititue for basic first-aid training.
"I say this without any fear of contradiction. First aid cannot be replaced. As the words imply, first aid. Our job is to look after the person, fix them up after going on the scene, with your naked hands, improvise, and keep these people alive until they can receive medical aid. Nobody but a first-aider knows the work of first aid."