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Westmoreland firefighter saluted for long service - Near-death experience in truck crash didn’t scare off rookie

Published:Tuesday | December 1, 2020 | 12:11 AMAlbert Ferguson-Gleaner Writer
Corporal Neri Allen.


Corporal Neri Allen says despite a near-death experience and the sometimes unpredictable, fiery nature of his job, he remains undaunted in his love and commitment to serving his community and country.

Allen, who serves in the Westmoreland Division of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, joined the service in 1982 as an accounting clerk before moving on to become a firefighter.

He was unable to collect his national honour for long service in the annual Heroes Day salute, but was yesterday formally presented with his insignia in a ceremony at the Savanna-la-Mar Methodist Church Hall, having given 38 years of faithful and dedicated service to Jamaica.

1983 accident

Allen told The Gleaner that his most memorable experience as a firefighter occurred in 1983 as he and other crewmen responded to a call. A fire truck overturned, pinning him and three colleagues under it.

“One of my co-workers died, another one suffered a fracture of his pelvis, while I suffered five broken ribs,” he said, reflecting on the tragedy.

He contemplated his death while he was pinned down, before finding the strength to urge himself not to give in.

“I endured the pain until help came. However, that help was short-lived, because as they attempted to jack up the truck to take me out, the truck fell off the jack, causing more pain and distress,” said Allen. “It fell into my chest and broke two of my ribs. I didn’t believe I would live, so much so that I told the people in the ambulance that I was dead, and they said, no, I was not dead.”

Allen noted that although his injuries landed him in the hospital for three months, which was followed by a further three months at home recuperating, he never lost the love for fighting fires and saving lives and properties.

“I am not scared of firefighting; it is what I love doing,” explained Allen. “I started out in the world of work as a land surveyor, drawing diagrams, before joining the fire brigade as an accounting clerk.”

The Burnt Savannah native said that while working in the accounts department at the Savanna-la-Mar Fire Station, he began admiring how the firefighters approached their jobs and was sold on joining them.

“Just watching the level of alacrity with which they operate, the way they quickly gear up and mounted those trucks as they responded to fire calls served as a deciding factor in me joining the service of the fire brigade, of which I have no regrets,” he told The Gleaner.

Other horrible experiences include stumbling upon the charred remains of human bodies, especially children, who lost their lives in house fires.

But through it all, there have been many great days and countless lives saved, making it all worth it.