Photo above: Firefighter Arvel Graham is always on call.
By Molly Ingram
“We’re just here to help people.”
That pretty much sums it up. It clearly identifies what it means to Arvel Graham to be a member of the Beaufort Fire Department. And honestly, it probably defines many of our local firefighters. They hold a job that isn’t for everyone. It carries huge responsibilities and stresses that each member learns how to handle for themselves. It requires intelligence, determination, courage, humor, patience and skills – lots of skills most of us have no idea of their complexity.
All of those traits show through in Arvel, a new member to the force as of last April. Arvel’s journey started in his home country of Jamaica and finally deposited him here in Beaufort where he stayed with his Aunt in Yamanssee. When he first arrived in Beaufort, he worked at Sherwin Williams Paints and helped coach a Beaufort County P.A.L.S. soccer team for his niece. It was here that a father of one of the young girls, who happened to be a firefighter, suggested Arvel look into fire-fighting as a career. And he could volunteer for the department in the meantime to see if he really liked it.
Although it took a while for the fire department to add on volunteers, Arvel hung in there and signed up. When you volunteer for the fire department, you must take all the same training as the regular firefighters, get most of their certifications, and do the same routine as a regular firefighter. Arvel learned CPR, got a certificate as an Emergency Medical Responder, and multiple other skills, all as a volunteer.
During this time, Arvel did maintenance on military housing to provide some income. One day while on base with his co-worker, they saw a dog running lose so they decided to try and catch him. In the process, Arvel noticed a woman, who had a baby with her, talking on her phone. Little did he think that when he looked up minutes later from what he was doing, that same woman would be on the ground in tears yelling that her baby wasn’t breathing. Arvel convinced the woman to let him administer CPR on the baby and he did in fact get the child to start breathing again. Without his training, the best he could have done was call 911.
This experience sealed the deal for Arvel and when a full time job became available late last winter, he applied and was accepted. “I’m a people person,” he said. “I feel strongly that you need to give back to your community and this is one of the ways I can do that, by being a first-rate fireman.”
Life is different now that he is a member of Shift III at the Ribaut Road headquarters station. He rides “rear jump” which is the seat behind the firefighter riding shot-gun next to the driver. He can be assigned onsite to any job the Captain wants him to do. It might be “fire attack” or laying out hoses, or cutting through a roof. “Times have changed,” he said. “Now there are many more rules, mostly for safety, so it isn’t as scary as in years past. But the adrenalin rush is still huge when the alarm goes off.”
His shift consists of 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Each day on duty, he is required to spend an hour in the gym working out so he stays in top shape in order to handle the very demanding challenges he will face on a daily basis in Beaufort. And if the shift members aren’t out on a job, they are studying or getting trained in something new. Or if it is a weekend, they are cleaning the equipment and the bay where the trucks are stored until needed. And yes, there is cooking involved. Arvel plans to treat the station to some home-style Jamaican food in the near future. “I love to cook and since I am the first Jamaican on the force, I would like to show my gratitude for the men accepting me by providing a nice dinner for them.”
Since he is neither a fisherman nor a hunter, common pastimes here in Beaufort, he is trying to figure out a hobby to keep him busy when not at the station. His former love of sports photography is starting to nudge again, so maybe we will see Arvel on the sidelines at some of our local games until his beeper starts going, and this off-duty firefighter suddenly finds himself back on-duty.
Avrel is a 26 year old gentleman who lives in Port Royal with his fiancé, Crystal, also from Jamaica, who is in the process of getting her R.N. degree. Together they will make a great couple of professionals both keeping the rest of us safe and healthy. Beaufort is lucky to have men like Arvel in our fire department. He personifies a fine individual who is living his dream, learning every day, and has a smile on his face for anybody he meets.