JAMAICA Fire Brigade Assistant Superintendent Garnett Douse cut a commanding figure as he strode across to the lawns of King’s House in St Andrew on Monday to receive a posthumous medal of honour for gallantry for his 25-year-old son Larenzo who last November was killed in the line of duty, but few saw the war he fought to maintain that composure amidst the rousing cheers.
Pursing and unpursing his lips and inhaling deeply, the senior fireman valiantly went through the motions of collecting the award from Governor General Sir Patrick Allen and left the dais. But it was not long before the tears held at bay in his reddened eyes pooled, then spilled, the force of his grief causing his towering frame to quake as he battled to reign in his emotions.
“It was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. It was hard, it was hard,” he told this reporter, his voice breaking.
Regaining his composure, the sad-eyed firefighter, while gazing in the distance, said his grief was made more pointed by the fact that his son who had followed him into the fire service had harboured further ambitions to follow in his steps.
“From he was young he decided that he wanted to become a firefighter. At age 19 he enrolled in the Fire Brigade. I remember that last year I came here, and I received my medal for meritorious service and he said to me ‘Daddy, one day I will get a medal too,” Douse said before once again losing the battle to tears.
Larenzo, however, only spent six years in the fire services before he died, the irony being that he did not die whilst fighting a blaze.
“He was extinguishing a fire at the Ocho Rios Pier and while standing at the back of the truck a car drove off the road and hit him almost cutting him in two. The fire was out, and he went to turn off the pump,” the grieving father shared.
Douse, who said he was attending a funeral in Old Harbour when he got the news of his son’s death, told the Jamaica Observer that his offspring died unnecessarily.
“I would say it’s carelessness. The car drove completely off the road and onto the soft shoulder,” he said, quietly dabbing at his eyes.
Describing his relationship with his son as “very good”, Douse remembered his son and “his kindness and his mannerism”.
“If Larenzo on the verandah and someone is passing, he is going to call to them. Sometimes I would say ‘youth, the people passing, you know is them supposed to call to you’? I remember that clear, clear and his love for his child, that I can tell you. He loved his child,” the father told the Observer.
Healing, he said, has been long in coming since the matter is still before the courts as the driver of the motor car that struck his son is facing manslaughter charges. Each time the matter is brought up before the St Ann’s Bay Circuit Court the pain goes to a new dimension, he confided.
“It has been difficult. Sometimes I send my sister inside because I really can’t [go in]. It’s rough, it rough,” he said.
At the same time, the senior firefighter says he harbours no ill will to the person responsible.
“It’s an accident. I really hold no grudge for the man who caused it. But what I know is that when you commit a crime you have to pay a penalty. If it was up to me alone, I would give him a reduced sentence seeing that all of us are drivers. I would say let him serve 60 or 70 per cent of whatever sentence,” he said.
Larenzo on Monday was one of the 205 Jamaicans who were conferred with National Honours and Awards at the Presentation and Investiture Ceremony.
Five people were conferred with the Order of Jamaica, 27 with the Order of Distinction Commander Class and 36 with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer.
Some 28 civilians received the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service, while 29 others were awarded the Badge of Honour for Long and Faithful Service in areas such as community development, community service, education, nursing, dentistry, and the public service.
In addition, members of the uniformed groups representing the Jamaica Defence Force, Jamaica Constabulary Force, Department of Correctional Services and Jamaica Fire Brigade were presented with the Medal of Honour for Meritorious Service.