July 24, 2006 – The V.I. Fire Service solved a long-standing problem Monday when the first class of St. John firefighters graduated in a ceremony held at the Battery.
Deputy Fire Chief Brian Chapman, who heads Fire Service activities on St. John, said that firefighters from St. Thomas are not familiar with St. John's roads, which makes it difficult for them to find addresses when a fire occurs.
"I had a couple of days where all four firefighters in Coral Bay were from St. Thomas," Chapman said.
Chapman said he also faced problems getting shifts of firefighters under way because a firefighter who missed the ferry by a minute had to wait almost an hour for the next one.
All nine firefighters in the class will be assigned to St. John. Chapman said six of them live on St. John, with the other three St. Thomas residents.
He urged any St. John residents interested a Fire Service career to apply.
The new firefighters are Doug Walters, Elgin Jeppesen, Magabe Calixte, Erik Chapman, Robert Hyde, Caleve Turnbull, William Lawrence, Wendy Davis and Clarence Stephenson, who is the class president.
In Stephenson's remarks to his colleague and the nearly 75 family, friends and Fire Service brass that attended the ceremony, he said that all of new firefighters scored more than 89 percent on the academic portion of their studies.
The top scholastic honor went to Erik Chapman, who is the deputy chief's son.
The award for top honors in physical training went to the lone woman in the class, Wendy Davis. Davis is also an Emergency Medical Technician, the only one in the class.
However, the other eight new firefighters trained as first-responders are now able to give basic lifesaving and first aid treatment.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley, a retired fire fighter who once headed up the Fire Service on St. John, said he pushed for medical training for many years for the St. John firefighters, but politics always intervened.
He said that this aspect of their training was particularly important because so many people lived far from Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center, which is located in Susannaberg.
St. Croix Rescue chief Gregory Francis, who ran the first responder class, said he's pushing to merge Fire Services and Emergency Medical Services to provide better service.
Chapman and others spoke about the complexity of today's firefighting.
"Houses are made out of plastic. It's dangerous stuff," Chapman said, referring to the toxic chemicals that become airborne when plastic catches fire.
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