Dana's last cry
Crime in Jamaica rises and falls with the sun. Like creatures of the night, the underworld springs to life under cover of darkness. But even without the problems we inflict on ourselves, nature can close in on us, too. Through negligence, another life was snuffed out on December 8, 2008. This is a fireman's account of events that transpired.
"A call came in approximately 8:23 on the night in question," said acting Corporal Brian Carless. "While we react to each and every call, we knew that this was no false alarm because a fellow fireman heading to Rollington Town (Fire Station) also called it in direct. The fire was in the Shooters Hill area, just outside Harbour View. The station guard made the alarm and we scrambled.
A sigh. A hard blink.
"We reached the location about 8:32, and saw already that our efforts would be futile, as the burning structure was wooden and the fire had done its worst; the dwelling had already collapsed. A crowd was trying to extinguish the blaze with buckets of water but the situation had overwhelmed them," he recalled.
"There was no hydrant in the area but we had enough water on board to work. So the driver stopped the unit and engaged the pump; we rushed out, grabbed the 'flaked' hose line (precoiled hose) and started to fight what was left of the fire. There was a 25 lb LPG cylinder that needed to be cooled down, so under orders from District Officer S. Salmon and acting Sgt E. Grant, we focused our attention on that and the cool-down operations on the surrounding properties containing the fire."
About five minutes into operations, neighbours made the firefighters realise there was a child under the rubble. Nine-year-old Dana Moodie was left in the house alone.
"We had realised at that point that no one could have survived the blaze," Carless said. However, the firemen throttled down the stream and started to pick through the now-smoking heap. They found her charred remains in what was left of a room without an outside exit.
Looking at his feet, Carless says, "Her extremities were just not there - no fingers or hands, no feet, no face ... ."
The pauses punctuate each breath with a painful solemnity. He pulls himself together - but steels himself for more memories. His eyes assume a thousand-yard stare, like he is trying to focus on time itself. His mind seems to switch over to automatic pilot, as this is the first lost soul he has seen in his seven years of service.
"We had to avoid hitting her with the water, as even low pressure would have torn her apart," he remembered.
"When the floodlight illuminated what was left of the little girl, the crowd went into upheaval as the mother began to vent her grief ... . She eventually had to be taken to KPH (Kingston Public Hospital). I remember at that moment the police came and started their investigations. The what, where, when and how of it had to be written down ... so we did that together.
"The father came a few minutes before we left, and instantly became a basket case. I feel bad for him. He seemed to have been coming from work, and to meet this ... it was like he was in another world. He kept on asking for his daughter, over and over and over again. Shock hol' him."
Horror sinks in
Corporal Carless said that after that chore, the men loaded the truck and left Shooters Hill.
After a minute of silence, his mind finally unlocks a door that he really wants to keep shut.
"What keeps going through my mind are the final thoughts that were going through hers. I think that she was probably sleeping and woke up in smoke, tried to get out but couldn't. Can't be sure. But there must have been some time in which she realised that she was going to die. How prepared for death can a child be at nine? She went down hard ... her last moments must have been frantic, and it is these images that are stuck in my mind. What words she was screaming when she went down, I'll never know. I'm thankful I was spared hearing her cries. I don't think I could deal with that."
He sighs. "In it all there is a sense of guilt because we couldn't get there in time. We are a reactive force; you call, we come. That is the nature of our work. In spite of having new technology, we cannot travel as fast as fire spreads. Even though we were on the scene less than 10 minutes after the call came in, we were powerless to stop that little girl's death. And I can't shake it. That sight and the mother's screams will be with me for a long time."
He says that there was a sombre silence in the unit on the way back to base.
Carless, too, has a three-year-old daughter. He took the following day off and spent it with his child. "Life is hard, all by itself," he summarises. "Sometimes we lose sight of that."