Firefighter Leo Bennett hailed by family for bravery
Ajani Bennett (right) places an arm around the shoulder of his father, Leo Bennett (left) after the firefighter finally came down from the top of the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew after spending more than five hours up there in protest against alleged poor treatment of firefighters. (Photos: Jason Cross)

AS worried and nervous as they were when they learned that Leo Bennett, a sergeant in the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB), had climbed to the top of the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew on Tuesday morning, his son and niece say they were proud of his bravery and role in the battle for better treatment of firefighters.

Bennett spent more than five hours on top of the building before his wife called him to request that he come down. He spent his time on the building either sitting while talking on the phone, or standing while waving a Jamaican flag.

"Him did deh inna di army first and then him turn firefighter. When you go in the army and they train you, you get a certain type of mentality," a female relative of Bennett shared, explaining why he looked unbothered in the heights of danger.

Bennett was among seven firefighters who were suspended recently for allegedly staging an unauthorised protest outside of Parliament. As part of the conditions of his suspension, Bennett and the others have been receiving half pay. On Tuesday after he came down from the transport centre, Bennett claimed during an interview with journalists that the JFB was using ego to punish him and his colleagues and that they have no evidence of a protest outside of Parliament.

Britany, the niece of firefighter Leo Bennett

"The members who are suffering on half pay, return them to work forthwith. They have no other source of earning. You can't use ego and suspend the men. Ask for the video, because if we were protesting in front of Parliament there should be some video evidence. Police was there, so bring the evidence," Bennett said moments after he descended from the top of the transport centre.

The Jamaica Observer spoke to Ajani, a teenage son of Bennett, who hailed his father as a brave man for fighting a worthy cause, despite mighty opposition. According to the young Bennett, his lunch money as well as his participation in extra-curricular activities has been cut since his father recently started receiving half pay.

"It has impacted me and my entire household. A patty is for like $260 and I can barely afford that. There has been a cut in my recreational activities as well. I have to budget and save immensely, so I am hoping that they restore full payment and everything that my father deserves," Ajani said.

He added that despite the setback, he was still very proud that his father was setting an example of what should exist.

"I am very happy that he is championing the cause. The firefighters are in desperate need of proper gears and care. There must be someone to advocate for the cause. If no one stands up for it then everybody is just going to continue receiving unjust treatment. He has led the charge and although he is an unsung hero, I am very thankful that he is advocating for the needs of firefighters and by extension, the entire Jamaica."

Further, Bennett's niece Britany said what he did on Tuesday came as no surprise to her.

In fact, while he was atop the transport centre, the Observer was present during a phone conversation which Britany had with her uncle.

"Uncle, it's Britany. You nuh see mi did a call you? You not hungry?" she asked.

Bennett responded saying, "I am not hungry. That is why you have to treat your body right so that if you don't get food one day, you can still survive."

Britany answered, "Okay uncle. Mi ago wait until you come down. Mi naa bother go work."

Britany explained she felt bad that her uncle had to resort to such dangerous measures, but said she understood what he was fighting for.

"Mi feel bad seh him affi go up deh but I agree with him for fighting for what he believes in. He is normally someone to speak up when it comes to the rights of people. He is always defending people overall. That's just the mentality weh him have. Him did deh inna di army first and then him turn firefighter. He grew up around Rastafarians and he believes in fighting for his rights and for people. He preferred to do it by himself instead of trying to do it with a group that may not really be willing. I asked him how he reached up there and he said he is a firefighter and he climbs higher buildings than the transport centre. He is not a mad man. A just suh him stay. Him mek up him mind seh him naa go come down until him ready. He wants better welfare for the firefighters. The other day some firefighters took an old washing machine from Riverton dump and took it to the station so they could wash clothes. Uncle is always looking out for people. The other day he was at my house and I sent my son to school without breakfast and he told me that I shouldn't practise that. He said I must at least give him tea."

Meanwhile, the Observer tried to get an update on the outcome of Wednesday's disciplinary meeting with Bennett, commissioner of the JFB Stewart Beckford, and two other members of a three-man panel, but stakeholders were tight-lipped.

The Observer understands that Sergeant Bennett has entered into a gentleman's agreement with his superiors, barring him from speaking on internal matters in the media.

BY JASON CROSS Observer staff reporter

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