An anonymous author once said, "all men are created equal, then a few become firemen." Indeed, in fire-fighting, many are called, but only a few are chosen. Our firefighters therefore belong to that elite group of brave men (and I am told, pretty soon, women will be joining their ranks, too) who are ready at the ring of a phone to don their gear, jump on their fire engines and go about the business of saving lives and property. In the process, they risk their own lives. Outing fires is a very risky business indeed. That is why firemen are considered heroes in some countries and treated as such.
I couldn't agree more with senior US Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Forces when he said: "Firefighters are essential to the safety and security of our local communities. We owe it to these men and women to provide them with better training and equipment so they can do their jobs more effectively and safely."
Ensuring that our firemen receive the best training they can get and have modern firefighting equipment has been a top priority for me since taking office as Managing Director of this airport. And today, 20 of them will receive their certificates for successfully completing the National Fire Protection Association 1001 Fire Fighter levels 1 & 2 courses in Canada.
Not only are we gathered here for the presentation of certificates to our successful firemen, but we're also here to witness their transition from the Dutch to the American system and thus a change in their ranking system.
All of these are happening within the context of the Fireman's Week which comes to an end here today as well as of the celebration of the 19th anniversary of the Rescue and Fire Fighting Department of SXM Airport.
In other words, the Department came into existence virtually on the eve of Hurricane Luis. It was therefore a baptism of fire – no pun intended- for the first group of fire-fighters at SXM Airport, who were immediately called to duty to assist their colleagues at the local fire station with all the emergencies that the monster hurricane caused.
As pioneer firefighter and former Chief of the Fire Department of New York, Edward F. Croker once said, "When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work."
SXM firefighters have proven that they are among the best in the line of duty. They have demonstrated that to the public during this week with the various activities to mark Firemen's Week. They are not only aircraft firefighters, but also certified Emergency Medical Technicians or EMTs, hence the free glucose and blood testing they had for all airport users yesterday, with equipment from their department.
In recognition of the progress being made by our Rescue and Fire Fighting Department, we have included the construction of a brand new fire building as an integral part of our Capital Improvement Program. The new facility will house on the airside the SXM Fire Station and on the landside a Substation for the Public Fire Station, with government having the right of use of this substation free of charge as per an agreement we signed with the Prime Minister.
The substation will also be equipped to accommodate an ambulance unit which the Hon. Minister of Health, Dr. Cornelius De Weever requested to provide timely responses for medical emergencies to residents and visitors in the Cole Bay, Simpson Bay, Airport, Maho, Mullet Bay and Cupecoy areas. Hopefully, our firemen will be able to celebrate their 20th anniversary next year in this ultra-modern facility that will soon be built.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
While training of our firemen is an ongoing process, and while it is also important to provide them with the facility and resources to do their job optimally, there can be no better way to encourage them to continue to put their lives on the line for us than for us as a community to begin to recognize them for who they are: heroes and to treat them accordingly. I understand that some restaurants already grant them a hefty discount whenever they identify themselves as firemen. That is a very good sign and an example for others to emulate.
An unknown author had written the following poem way back in 1879 in the Fireman's Journal:
When fire is cried and danger is neigh,
"God and the firemen" is the people's cry;
But when 'tis out and all things righted,
God is forgotten and the firemen slighted.
We at SXM Airport certainly haven't forgotten God, neither do we want our firemen to be slighted by not granting them the recognition and special treatment we believe they deserve. Therefore, we will be announcing shortly a series of measures, beginning perhaps with a preferential Immigration handling for all firemen who identify themselves as such, whether they are traveling alone or accompanied by their family.
In conclusion, on behalf of the management and staff of the Princess Juliana International Airport, permit me to extend congratulations to all fire-fighters for a very successful Firemen's Week. Remember, firemen never die; they live forever in the hearts of those whose lives they saved.
I thank you.