April 9, 2006 – St. Croix Rescue welcomed 11 volunteers to its fold on Sunday following a graduation ceremony that was bittersweet for the men and women who spent six months together undergoing rigorous training for emergency response situations.
What would otherwise have been a happy occasion was dampened by the fact that the 12th member of the first graduating class of 2005 was missing. In a domestic violence incident Feb. 7, rescue trainee Shirley Ann Phillip was shot to death, just six days before her 29th birthday.
During the ceremony, St. Croix Rescue Chief Gregory N. Richards presented Phillip's mother, Gertrude, with her certificate and a plaque with a silver badge, No. 99, nestled against a burgundy velvet background.
Richards said that the badge number has been retired in perpetuity and will never be used again.
The 11 graduates dabbed at tears, as did some in the audience, during remarks made by their deceased classmate's mother.
"It's a pity she could not be here today, but I know if my daughter was here she would be smiling," Gertrude Phillip said after accepting the certificate and plaque.
Shirley Ann Phillip "may not be here in body, but here in spirit," she said.
Richards told the audience that included family members, well-wishers and dignitaries — including Delegate Donna Christensen, St. Croix Administrator Gregory Francis and Territorial Police Chief Novelle Francis Jr. — that the class began with 23 recruits. It was initially whittled down to 18 and then 12. Richards said that the 11 present persevered and completed the often rigorous routines, such as rappelling down cliffs.
"These graduates are highly motivated and ready to serve," he said, noting that that recruits often leave because rescue work can be consuming.
He challenged the graduates to "make that five-year anniversary of community service. As volunteers, you are expected to leave your warm and fuzzy bed and your home at three in the morning to take care of the citizens of our community."
Christensen, Administrator Francis and Police Chief Francis welcomed the graduates into a unit that they all agreed was exemplary nationwide and internationally.
Just last week for example, Fire Service Chief Ovaldo Graham, Richards and other Rescue staff traveled to Jamaica as part of a federally coordinated training program for the Caribbean region.
In addition to providing training, St. Croix Rescue officials served as evaluators for the training.
Chief Francis was 14 when he was given special permission, along with Richards, his classmate, to join St. Croix Rescue. Serving the community is rewarding and something he learned early on with what was then the Civil Air Patrol.
"I certainly give all the credit to St. Croix Rescue for where I stand today, as territorial chief of police and police officer."
Graham, who was keynote speaker on Sunday, praised St. Croix Rescue for raising the level of response in the community "because they know that the capability of our local emergency medical service could not sustain adequate coverage in a mass-casualty situation."
He said that he and Richards are working to merge Rescue with the Fire Service, as is the case in other jurisdictions nationwide.
"Chief Richards and I are determined to make it happen this year by providing cross-training to our members," Graham said during remarks. "The Fire Service has made space available in our fire stations so that ambulance service can be provided from Frederiksted and Cotton Valley to the Juan F. Luis Hospital."
Currently the sole ambulance station is at the hospital.
Graham told graduates that there is no greater service than coming to the aid of someone who may be in distress.
"Search and rescue is one of the world's most honored occupations," he said. "By becoming members of St. Croix Rescue, you have joined an organization that is rich in heritage, dedication and unselfish sacrifice. It is truly rewarding to know that there are people willing and capable of providing emergency medical assistance and extrication to our community."
Graham said that the rigorous training will be called into action many times because whenever there is a disaster St. Croix Rescue is usually one of the first organizations called to assist, and he urged family members to be supportive.
"This job is not comfortable or easy, but one that requires a high level of personal commitment, skills, knowledge and a genuine desire to help people. It also exposes you to a high level of personal danger," he said.
Class president Lawrence Londer said that the class was a mixture of varied ethnic backgrounds, likes and dislikes, but the one thing all had in common was a belief in the preservation of life.
The six-month training, he said, was "very demanding and took a lot of sacrifice – not only from us but those who trained us, we're very appreciative of that," adding that all were committed to the volunteer efforts of St. Croix Rescue.
He urged families present to support the volunteers.
The graduates are: Kimberly Aponte, Delita Burroughs, Kareem Christopher, Michael Fedee, Judith Lewis-Figueroa, Vaughn George, Lawrence Londer, Chermaine O'Reilly, Jacqueline Phillip, Shirley Ann Phillip (deceased), Gaynell Richardson and Lilan Roa.
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