On Monday, November 2, Jerome Parchment will climb the steps of Barrie City Hall and make his way into Human Resources. There for his first official day as a Barrie Firefighter. While the first couple of weeks will be training, he’ll be starting a new life.
This twinkle of a light has hovered on his horizon since he was a child and lost his best friend in a house fire.
The journey between then and now is an amazing story of choice, attitude, willingness, positivity, goal setting, preparedness, setbacks, get-ups, go-agains, and laughter.
A Jamaican child, living with his grandmother on a farm on the western countryside, handmilking cows and doing a day’s work before jumping into a river for a wash, donning a school uniform and heading to school… that was life for Jerome. His mother lived on a Dutch island near Venezuela. His father lived in Barrie. They each had other children. A complex family set up.
He was 14 in 1996 when it was decided his future would be better if he moved to Barrie for Canadian small-city life. He joined parents he had never known, registered as one of the few African American kids at Central Collegiate and set out to soak up learning. He thoughts roamed… what work could he do that made a difference?
By nature Jerome sees the bright side of life. He’s a peacemaker. He remembers letting that slip one day at school when a bigger boy razzed him repeatedly and pushing turned to shoving turned to a trip to the vice principal’s office. Paul Regan, ex hockey player, was VP then and discipline was his major activity. Turns out Paul Regan made a world of difference in Jerome’s life. He talks about the lesson. “What’re you doing that for, Jerome? asks Mr. Regan. He’s annoyed with me. He turns to the other kid and asks how his dad is doing. Turns out the other kid’s dad is really sick with cancer. He wasn’t a bully at all. He was just really angry and I happened to be there.”
Jerome’s paradigm shift occurred right there… things aren’t always what they seem. And he credits Paul Regan with incredible influence, for teaching him that if you’re not patient in life, you miss the simple things. Jerome is patient with life.
Jerome’s wisdom has at its core a willingness to experience life with an open heart, a fertile mind. With firefighting on his brain, Jerome graduated well from high school, went on to take pre-service fire courses at Sir Sandford Fleming, and ultimately graduating from Georgian College.
In between he got married to the enthusiastic, positive Sarah Campbell, and the couple brought two daughters into the world.
Jerome has made sure every job moved him toward his goal… he got his DZ licence for truck driving, he did power washing, line painting, physical labour, and in each job he saw potential. Even the tough, physically dirty, difficult job in a hides company had its positive side… ‘it was a great physical workout.’ He spent two years working 14 hours a day at a thermal plant in Brampton doing on-site rescue, responding to emergency situations in a very complex setting. Why? Preparation for firefighting! He gives more than he gets and his volunteer work is a great fit with his charitable nature!
Last summer, making his weekly check of Barrie’s website for firefighter opportunities, he saw the notice. He sat in a huge conference hall at York University and wrote exams that tested linguistics, comprehensiion, memory, mechanical aptitude, math, character, conduct, sureness, commitment, memory. He sat with 235 other hopefuls and then kept checking online to see if his number–1135–was among the winners.
Two weeks passed. He was invited to a panel interview in Barrie, one of 61 candidates interviewed. They were hiring 12. He got the call for a physical and a fitting in September.
He got the official call days later.
As he describes the absolute enthusiasm he feels at reaching this longed-for goal, he also recognizes he is the city’s first African American firefighter. We talked about his ‘colour,’ how unique he felt as a high school student. Jerome says the colour of his skin makes him feel that much more proud of this next step. “I feel like I think differently,” he says. “So many of these kids rebel. As a young kid I could get into lots of bad stuff, but I wasn’t interested. I guess I think differently.
“We have choices. If someone gives you attitude, you give them good attitude back.”
And then he smiles. “I’m so happy I came right to Barrie, directly to Barrie, from Jamaica.”
There’s something to be said for that. And for Paul Regan and his attention to a youngster in a new culture and a new land. My guess is that Jerome Parchment will be giving that same strength to others, all along the line.
Thanks, Jerome. And congratulations!