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Retiring Firefighters Lauded by Co-Workers, Officials

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Dec. 27, 2006 — A retirement luncheon for several of V.I. Fire Services top brass was held Wednesday at Gertrude's Restaurant on St. Croix. The departing firefighters were honored by their co-workers with commemorative plaques and shiny new retirement badges.
The honorees — Director of Fire Services Merwin C. Potter, St. Croix Fire Chief Ovaldo Graham, St. Croix Deputy Fire Chief Marcellino Ventura Sr., St. John Deputy Fire Chief Brian Chapman, Fire Sgt. Roberto Encarnacion (STX), and Firefighters Elroy Miller (STX) and Richard Lettsome (STT) — received accolades for their more than 120 years of combined service in the department.
The newly retired veteran firefighters were showered with gifts and personal tributes from the shifts they supervised, and flowers were given to their wives in appreciation of the understanding and support they gave to their husbands.
Potter, who was described by those who worked with him as being calm under pressure and a good listener, talked about the good relationship he had with his subordinates. "You made my job easier," he said, addressing the crowd of about 60 family, friends and co-workers. Giving some advice to his successor, Potter said, "Have the confidence to let (the firefighters) do their job."
"The department has been home to me for the last 27 years," said Graham, as he thanked his family and co-workers. "They have been a real pleasure to work with," he said. Graham said that as district fire chief he strived to bring the department to a higher level of expertise.
He said the one thing he regrets is that his goal of a state-of-the art fire station was not realized during his tenure. "We bought the land," he said, "those taking over have a foundation to build on."
Graham also had praise for community leaders, especially outgoing Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, who attended the ceremony. "Thanks for being there when we needed you most," Graham said.
"This is a bittersweet occasion for me," Ventura said. "When we come to retirement, we want to stay; but while we are working, we can't wait to retire." Ventura talked about the strides made by the department in recent years, noting that firefighters now have "personal assistance devices," which can pinpoint a firefighter's location in a fire. Having nothing but praise for his co-workers, Ventura said, "I have served with the Virgin Islands' bravest, and I am honored."
Several who gave personal tributes to Ventura expressed skepticism over his retirement. Ventura addressed this, saying, "My retirement is not cast in stone. I will still serve my community."
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards said the veteran firefighters "provided stellar leadership" to the community and the department. "The community is quick to criticize and slow to praise," he said, as he thanked them for their service.
Showing their appreciation to Richards, the firefighters presented him with an original Benjamin Franklin firefighter's helmet. Franklin is credited as the founder the country's first volunteer fire company.
Also praising the outgoing firefighters was St. Croix Rescue Chief Gregory Richards, who echoed many other speakers' sentiments regarding the merger of Fire, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and St. Croix Rescue. "In every other jurisdiction, EMS, Fire and Rescue are merged," he said, adding that ambulance response should be no longer than eight minutes, but that with only one operational ambulance on St. Croix that is impossible. "This is totally unacceptable," Richards said, adding that the retiring brass "embraced" the idea of the merger and strides have been made to make it a reality.
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