Chief Fire Officer Wilfred Marshall wore his uniform for the last time yesterday, as he bade an official farewell to the Barbados Fire Service where he served for the majority of his life. The occasion was the 59th anniversary service of the Barbados Fire Service held at Calvary Moravian Church in Roebuck Street, Bridgetown.
Marshall went on pre-retirement leave today, but will retire on January 1, 2015, one month short of his 40th anniversary in the service.
“It has been 40 successful and satisfying years for me,” Marshall told Barbados TODAY. “I would have entered the service back in 1975 when we had what I would refer to as a water and hose service. The focus then was on fighting a lot of cane fires and chattel house fires. Forty years later, we are now in a situation where firefighting is completely different.
“The focus now is on search and rescue, dealing with hazardous materials; and so the firefighter coming into the department now has to have a different mindset from the fire officer I would have met back then.”
The complexities involved in firefighting are evident, based on statistics provided by the Barbados Fire Service, which show two dozen classification of fires ranging from those involving utility poles and petroleum products to electrical and sugar canes.
“Today we are talking about photovoltaic (PV) systems; so we can’t just rush into a situation and assume that because the electricity is off . . . . You’re now dealing with PV systems. There are different rescues that we have to deal with. Dealing with road traffic accidents have become part of our activities,” the fire chief explained.
Marshall presided over the launch in 2007 of the Fire Prevention Unit. Additionally, the administration of the service was relocated in April, which, he admits, was one of the crowning moments of his four and a half years as fire chief.
“There are always changes that you would have wanted to see. We started a movement in this department back in 1999 with our strategic plan, and technology formed the centre of that plan. We were just in the age of computers. I remember as a young fire officer preparing my field reports. We learnt to draw lines because we have big sheets on which to write our reports, and we had to draw lines on them; and then came the spreadsheets and we had to learn to prepare reports and statistics using computers and spreadsheets,” he said laughing.
“In 2014, technology now plays a big part in the Fire Service. We conduct training online with St Lucia and Dominica and they just sit in, on a daily basis, as if they’re in the classroom. I’m very happy to see that we’ve kept current in the Fire Service. Our vision really is to see this department as a highly professional one within the Caribbean, and we have gone a long way in achieving that vision . . . . I am leaving with the knowledge that the Fire Service is in good hands, with a cadre of well educated persons . . . . We have a high cadre of university graduates, BCC graduates, and so we we’re moving on.”
The 61-year-old, who has been married for 34 years, and is the father of three, admits leaving the service is bittersweet. He is looking to spending more time with his family, but is leaving a career he has worked in for more than half his life.
“Fire management was the focus of my life. When I read, I ready anything to do with fire management. Now I have to look for something else to read. Nothing else really attracts me the way that attracts me,” he acknowledged.
“I’m going to enjoy life really. I will be involved in some volunteer organizations . . . . I won’t be far from the Fire Service. Also, there are organization such as the Caribbean Association of Fire Chiefs that I’m presently in and international firefighting organizations that I will keep working with,” he added, while thanking individuals and groups who assisted him during his time in the service.