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Skills and hard work make a difference for firefighter

He who is free of faults will never die.

_ proverb from Zaire

When I was a youngster, firefighters were community heroes. Lt. Bernard Williams of the St. Petersburg Fire Department is proof that they still are.

"When I was around 16 years old," Williams said, "a friend of mine and I were talking about what we could do with our lives and still make a difference. We wanted to be able to help other people in our community. It was then that I decided to become a firefighter."

Williams, 39, is the second of four children born to Herman and Carrie Williams. His father is deceased. He is married to the former Brenda Cunningham and they have two children, Tiffany, 16, and Christopher, 10.

"Most people may never need the services of the Fire Department, but for those who will, our skills and the hours that we put in training can make all the difference," he said. "Since I have been with the department, we have never lost any personnel and that is due to the excellent training we receive."

Williams, a 1973 graduate of Boca Ciega High School, has been on the force for 15 years. He was voted Firefighter of the Year in 1992 and Shift B Emergency Medical Technician of the Year in 1987. He and his family live in St. Petersburg's Broadwaters neighborhood.

There are about 300 firefighters in St. Petersburg and about 60 of them are African-Americans.

"As with any profession, there are people who resent the presence of black people, but I can honestly say I don't feel any racism at my station," he said. "Everyone that works here wants to work here. We are a specially trained company in emergency rescue and vehicle extrication.

"There is a real bond between firefighters. Just because of the nature of the job, it wouldn't make much sense to be otherwise since you never know whom you may need in a crisis."

Williams has such a good sense of humor, it doesn't take much to get him to laugh.

The children at Pinellas Park Elementary School have benefited greatly from this community-minded man, as he has been involved in the mentor program for four years. "It is important that we let the children know that there is someone out there who really cares about them."

Personally, I hope that I never have to use the services of the Fire Department, but if I should ever have to, I'm sure glad that Lt. Williams is a part of the team. Harambee!

The Cradle of Wisdom comes from Eleanor Roosevelt: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.