50 years of service to the JFB
Acting Sergeant Muriel White and District Officer Andrea Morris have given a combined total of 50 years of stellar service to the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) and for their effort, they recently received the medal of honour for long service and good conduct.
White, a native of Black River, St Elizabeth, responded to a JFB recruitment advertisement during a period of unemployment in 1995, when she was 31.
Prior to that, she had completed an 18-month course in practical nursing and got married.
“The first fire I responded to was a gas tank fire on the top of Spur Tree Hill, and honestly, it scared me to death. I cried when I saw what was happening. A house was on fire and a man was burned to death,” White recounted.
She recalled that when she joined the Brigade, women wore skirts and were often told by their male counterparts that they would be better off doing administrative work as they were not suitably equipped to fight fires.
“A couple months after that, we started wearing pants, so when we respond to fires now, you can’t tell if it’s a male or a female because we are all dressed the same.”
The balancing act has not been an easy one for White. One such instance was when she gave up the opportunity to be an emergency medical technician in the JFB, as it would require her to work outside of her home parish.
“When I started working, even my dogs would bark at me, and my husband would say, ‘Yuh spend so much time at work that the dogs don’t even recognise you anymore’,” she said with a chuckle.
On February 9, 2010, White responded to a fire call at the Luana housing scheme and got injured on the job.
“I was the front-line person at that fire and I stepped on a stone and wrung my foot. I started to feel my foot swelling, so I called out to my supervisor and told him. When we were finished, they took me to a medical facility and they had to cut the boot to get my foot out, because it was so swollen,” she recounted.
White added that an X-ray revealed that the ligaments in her left ankle were damaged.
“I look forward to going to work on a daily basis because of our mantra, which is to save lives and protect property,” she said.
White also changed her church so that she could be consistent and punctual in her attendance; and now serves as an elder at the Holland United Church and a justice of the peace for the parish.
The wife and mother also makes food prepping a standard feature on her Saturdays and rises early on Sundays to ensure that her family has a delicious dinner.
She credits her supportive husband and sister, who assisted with taking care of her children while she was away at work.
“My greatest achievement is owning a home and I was able to send my two daughters through high school and university, with the assistance of my most loving husband, who is a self employed welder,” she told The Gleaner.
ANDREA MORRIS GETS A TASTE OF THE ACTION
Morris had been the divisional head secretary in the JFB for just under 10 years and had always watched the quick action of firefighters when the station received an emergency call.
In 1995, she decided that it was time to get a taste of the action and registered for training.
“After graduating, I was called back in the office to do secretarial work and I did that for another two years, and on weekends I would come to the station to do firefighting work, just to get some experience,” she told The Gleaner.
Morris got up one morning and resolved that she would no longer report for desk duty and since then, she has not returned.
When lives and property are saved, she is most jubilant, but “there are times when we are not able to save a life because the structure is made of board, so by the time we get there, it’s already engulfed in flames.”
Morris has given all her service in St Catherine, where she received her latest promotion to district officer in March.
Her only child, a student at a boarding school, has had more bonding time with her since the COVID-19 pandemic. She now works 24-hour shifts, with three days off, and noted that the station has been responding to less fires.
Morris is pleased that more women have been joining the brigade in recent times, and that there is equality in terms of workload, salary and promotion.
“I have worked with the fire prevention section in St Catherine, accounts, the registry; but my love is firefighting and this is where I intend to remain until retirement,” said Morris.