Firefighter gets international lesson in Kent

After a recent two-week training mission with the Kent Fire Department, Jamaican firefighter Conroy Steve Ghans returned to the Caribbean island armed with new information and techniques to fight fires and make rescues.

Conroy Steve Ghans

After a recent two-week training mission with the Kent Fire Department, Jamaican firefighter Conroy Steve Ghans returned to the Caribbean island armed with new information and techniques to fight fires and make rescues.

Through a mutual friend of Ghans and Larry Webb, a retired Kent Fire Department battalion chief, Ghans spent March 24 through April 4 with Webb learning as much as he could about firefighting in the United States.

“The experience has been very good,” said Ghans in a March 27 interview at Station No. 74 on the East Hill prior to his return home. “I hope someday we can arrange for other firefighters from Jamaica to see this training to help with our motivation level. Maybe we can get an exchange program going.”

Ghans met James Burke, a teacher at Tyee Middle School in Bellevue, during one of Burke’s trips to Jamaica as part of a computer-donation program to schools on the island. Although a paid firefighter in the city of Lucea, Ghans drives a taxi for extra income and met Burke as a passenger in his cab.

After Ghans shared with Burke his interest in traveling to the United States to learn more about firefighting, Burke contacted Webb to set up the training. Burke also paid for Ghans to travel here.

The trip has left an indelible impression on the visiting firefighter.

“I’ve seen programs I’d like to replicate in Jamaica,” Ghans said.

Those programs include Kent’s Community Emergency Response Team training courses, where residents learn basic techniques from firefighters to save lives and protect property. Ghans attended one of the classes of the CERT course and now hopes to start a similar program in Jamaica.

Ghans, who has worked 13 years as a firefighter, also learned in Kent about how to use ropes to rescue people from trenches, steep banks or confined spaces. At the start, Ghans knew how to tie one knot. Now he knows about 10 different ones, and their various uses.

“The biggest challenge is to get the senior officers to accept changes,” Ghans said about taking ideas back to Jamaica. “And not only the challenge to get them to accept changes, but to implement changes.”

Webb also took Ghans to the Washington State Fire Training Academy in North Bend where he learned how to use a chain saw to cut open a roof of a building.

During his time in Kent, Ghans discovered equipment he has not seen in Jamaica, such as the Jaws of Life hydraulic tool that firefighters use to rescue people trapped in vehicles, and a thermal-imaging camera that enables emergency workers to find people trapped inside burning buildings.

“It was a great learning environment,” said Webb, who took Ghans to the various training courses and classes and showed him Kent’s fire equipment. “It was an eye opener for us because what we have we take for granted while they have not seen some equipment or do not have the money to buy it.”

Shortly after Ghans returned to Jamaica, Webb also traveled to the island to learn what he might be able to do to help the city of Lucea improve its firefighting capabilities.

“I’ll learn a lot when I’m down there and do a needs assessment,” Webb said prior to leaving for Jamaica April 4. “A lot of the new technologies and tools they don’t have there.”

Webb said fire departments in the United States often have surplus equipment that other countries can use. He also will check to find what groups in Jamaica might help fund fire equipment purchases, possibly getting the owners of Jamaican resorts to help out.

“We always lack in funding,” Ghans said about any changes that might happen in Jamaica because of the trips by himself and Webb. “Money is an issue.”

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or shunter@reporternewspapers.com.

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