Chief Fire Officer Elvis Weaver is celebrating the anniversary of his fourth decade in the force, in which he served as constable, corporal, all the way up to his current post of Assistant Commissioner of Police which he has held since September 2015.
In honour of Weaver’s dedicated service to the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, his colleagues – many of whom are just about half his age, celebrated him with a Guard of Honour Parade last Friday.
Over the weekend, he reflected upon the many highlights of his career and expressed some concerns during an exclusive interview with OBSERVER media.
OBSERVER: Why did you join the Fire Department?
Weaver: When I enlisted in the force, I was enlisted in the regular force [Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda] and to me, I said it was a divine revelation when I asked to be transferred to the fire department. I did not know anyone in the fire department, I was not trained in firefighting but I just felt like the fire department was the better place for me to work and over the years I have seen how important it is to be a firefighter.
Our main goal is to save lives and to protect the property of the citizens of the people of Antigua and Barbuda. It is good when you help people and you see the smiles and their gratitude and that’s what the fire department brings to the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda. It is really a good feeling and that is why I chose it and I am very happy that I chose to be in the fire department. It’s a very rewarding job, it’s like a brotherhood. I can leave Antigua and go to any island and I can just be taken care of by firefighters in any country in this world. We just love each other as fire fighters and I have no regrets really of serving as a fire officer.
OBSERVER: How many people finished the course with you to enter the force 40 years ago and how many are still there today?
Weaver: On my course, 23 officers graduated. It was said at that time that whenever a course trained at Langfords somebody must resign. But, on my course 23 of us started, 23 of us graduated, no one resigned before the training was over. There are only two other officers in the regular force right now who started with me, ASP Ryan and Sergeant Isaac.
OBSERVER: What are some of the highlights of your 40-year career?
Weaver: There have been many highlights of my career. Of course, the first promotion, that was very important for me, then my first trip overseas was just after I became a Corporal, I was chosen to go to Canada. It was the first time I was travelling on a firefighting course and of course all my promotions over the years from Corporal, Sergeant, Senior Sergeant, Inspector, ASP [Assistant Superintendent of Police], Superintendent and of course the Fire Chief, Assistant Commissioner, those are the great highlights of my career.
OBSERVER: What’s the toughest thing about your job?
Weaver: The toughest thing for me in this job was, as a young fire officer and getting married young and having to leave your home, your wife, young children, going out to work 24 hours on, whole day away from your family and then you’re off for the next 24 hours which always seemed so short.
When there is a disaster you have to leave your family and attend to these disasters, taking care of other people while your family many times [is] left for you to deal with last. Those are the toughest things to me really to do the job, but as I said before I love it and I have no regrets.
OBSERVER: What is the one thing you think the public doesn’t know about the job of a fireman?
Weaver: What a lot of people don’t know about the fire department, is that we are very committed to our job, saving lives and property. When other people are running away from disasters, especially fires, firemen are going in without fear. And, that is one of the things that I want people to understand about the fire department, the officers are committed, fearless and love to do their job.
OBSERVER: Which incident had the biggest impact on you during your career?
Weaver: Seeing people die in fire is very horrific; I have seen a few of those. But the most horrific thing I have seen was when that [Fly] Montserrat aircraft crashed just inside the airport a few years ago. To me, just seeing those people, without getting into detail, how those people died was very horrific to me.
OBSERVER: How have your concerns about fire safety evolved over the 40 years in the department?
Weaver: When I joined the fire department Antigua was not developed as it is now. Now there are so many more houses being built, high-rise buildings, and firefighting has become more difficult.
So, over the years I have been very concerned especially because we don’t have a Fire Code to deal with infractions. There are many buildings in Antigua with one door in and one door out, some of them do not have a fire escape, some of the high-rise buildings have no fire escape and it is very concerning. I really would like for us to have a Fire Code to have some teeth to deal with people who violate the building codes. We do have a building code, we have the OECS building code, but we don’t have a fire code that would give us the power to go and shut down a place if it’s not up to standard … buildings where people are gathered, like supermarkets, clubs, they only have one door in and one door out and many of them are overcrowded and these are the things I am very much concerned about. I am hoping sooner rather than later that, working with the government, we would be able to have a Fire Code that would give us the power, the authority to inspect these buildings, give warnings and if they are not rectified, close them down.
OBSERVER: When are you due to retire?
Weaver: I am due to retire in March 2020 but I’m not sure how things are going. I will be willing to serve even for a couple more years, but it is up to the government. The mandatory age of retirement here is 60
now that Social Security is taking the age gradually to 65, I don’t know what the government will be doing.
OBSERVER: What would you like to say to your colleagues as you mark this milestone of 40 years?
Weaver: I would say to my colleagues, both in the regular force and fire department, that the police force is a very good organisation. It is a good place to work, lots of opportunities are there for you if you apply yourself, if you are well disciplined, if you work hard you can go places. It is a good paying job so I would like to encourage the younger ones especially to be serious about the job, be committed, be honest, do the right things and keep working to protect the people of Antigua and Barbuda, both lives and property and just enjoy the job, it’s a good job.
OBSERVER: Whenever you leave the force, how would you like to be remembered?
Weaver: I want to be remembered as someone who made a positive contribution to the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda and to the Fire Department – I would like my name to be called whenever the police force, fire department is mentioned and when someone may have called my name it’s to say that I have made a positive contribution, I have been a role model to someone, I have helped someone and have made Antigua and Barbuda a better place through my service.