“Wow!” my friend Sherry wrote on my Facebook page. “You can tell you are on an island. Now seriously, would you attend a fire engine dedication if you were in TC?”
Actually, no. You have to understand that Eleuthera is a sleepy island, but we did have some excitement this weekend: Lynn and I skipped the church cookout Saturday because we knew we were committed to the fire engine dedication on Sunday, and we can eat only so many conch fritters and peas and rice in one weekend.
So, today Lynn and I headed for the fire engine dedication in the heat of a sleepy Sunday afternoon. It’s an interesting thing, this acquisition of a firetruck for Tarpum Bay. The story begins in 2002, when an ambulance was donated to the community. By 2005, the vehicle was in total disrepair and a group of concerned citizens raised funds to repair and re-stock it. Riding on the back of that success, the group formed the “South Eleuthera Emergency Partners” (with the unfortunate acronym of ‘SEEP”). They were able to raise $25,000 in about 2 years, and acquired a 1975 MACK MD 400 named “Beauty”. They also raised additional funds and built a large shelter out on Queen’s Highway to house ‘Beauty’, and SEEP began a volunteer fire person training program, assisted by its US partner city of Gibsonville, North Carolina.
‘Beauty’ has been in Tarpum Bay for a few months now, but of course having the machinery is only a part of the program. Training the volunteers and purchasing the support equipment is quite another detail, and shortly after her arrival ‘Beauty’ was tested at the scene of a large grass fire in the neighboring town of Rock Sound. Again in early February, ‘Beauty’ attended another fire, this one with some serious consequences. Coincidentally, the fire was in a large seaside home owned by a friend of ours in our home town of Traverse City, Michigan. According to the newspaper, The Eleutheran, “the 750 gallon SEEP Fire Truck, filled to capacity, battled the blaze until the water supply was exhausted. As in many areas in the rural Bahamas, the Cotton Bay area has no fire hydrants, so the only option for the SEEP team was to draw water from the ocean. However, the team hit a snag when the suction for the draft pump malfunctioned and they were not able to draw in the ocean’s resource.”
Our friend’s house was a total loss.
However, the paper reports that the SEEP team now has additional training and equipment, and will be able to meet future challenges.
It’s an ambitious program: SEEP intends to extend its services to the most southern points of the island, and continue to train its citizens in emergency procedures as well. Today was the day that Beauty the Firetruck was turned over to the appropriate governmental units, with great pomp and circumstance.
Lynn and I arrived just as things were getting started: the police band was there, resplendent in white uniforms with red and gold braid, and the police and emergency services team were in full regalia. Women were dressed in high heels and hats, and many of the men were still in church suits and ties. It was cool inside the shelter, but several women carried large sun umbrellas and everyone seemed to be clutching bottles of water.
In the Bahamas, church and state are one—the national anthem is often accompanied by exclamations of “Praise Jesus!” and “Thank you, Lord!”. Similarly, fire trucks and ambulances are prayed over, as are the volunteers (“wolunteers” in Bahamian) who “leave their churches and their families to help the community.” Everyone receives a plaque or a framed certificate, and fire persons were paraded in front of the entire community to a standing ovation.
The band played again, much to the delight of the little boys gaping in awe at the snare drummer. We left as the SEEP president, also a minister, wound up for a prolonged and thankful benediction and the ladies auxiliary began to uncover the potato salad and peas and rice.