Ajax firefighter committed to career after 9/11
June 8, 2017
September 11, 2001 was the New York Fire Department’s darkest day.
A total of 343 firefighters lost their lives after terrorists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Centre.
North of the border, Clive Deonarine Jr. was on his way to classes at the University of Windsor when the first tower collapsed.
Before he could fully process what was taking place, the second tower was hit and it crumbled a few minutes later.
Watching firefighters and first responders run into the blazing infernos, somehow, resonated with the second-year student.
Little did he know at the time that a cousin was cleaning an office building in the South Tower when the terrorists struck. He’s among the 1,113 victims who haven’t been identified.
That day, Deonarine – who eyed a National Football League (NFL) career -- decided he was going to be a firefighter.
“I knew if I didn’t make it as a pro football player, I had to have something to fall back to,” said the former Team Canada and Ontario defensive back who was recruited by the University of Windsor. “While in university, I was undecided as to what career I was going to pursue, but after watching those courageous firefighters go into those towers on that chaotic day knowing that many of them might not come out alive, I decided that is what I wanted to do. They were interested in saving other people’s lives and I wanted to do that when called upon.”
After securing his undergraduate degree in 2003, Deonarine enrolled in St. Clair College’s pre-service firefighter education & training program.
The Ontario Certificate program provides students with the knowledge and skills in scientific principles of education and fire prevention in the community, fire behaviour, fire ground operations, firefighter emergency patient care, environmental protection and rescue operations as well as introduction to the fire service.
The program along with laser eye surgery and other tests cost about $22,000.
“That was in addition the cost to attend university for four years,” said Deonarine, the product of Trinidadian immigrants who spent 14 years in Europe before coming to Canada in 1975. “I took the risk to make this investment because being a firefighter was what I really wanted to be.”
With the acquired skills and training, he applied to 25 fire services in Canada and the Detroit Fire department.
“I did some medical volunteering in Essex County to build my resume and I wrote about 15 to 20 academic and psychological tests where a minimum mark of 70 per cent is required before you get an interview,” he said.
Two months after applying to Ajax Fire Service, Deonarine got the call in February 2005 that he was hired.
Of the nearly 1,300 viable candidates selected from over 3,000 applicants, he was selected to fill one of eight spots.
“That was one of the happiest days of my life because I was raised in Ajax,” said the Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High School graduate. “In the interview, I remember the deputy who hired me told me I gave one of the best answers when I was asked why I thought I was a good fit for Ajax. My response was this is my home and nobody is going to protect your home like you will. I really think that helped clinch it for me.”
He credits playing a team sport with assisting in the seamless transition.
“In football, if one person misses an assignment, that could lead to a touchdown for the opponent,” said Deonarine who was last year awarded a Lightning Bolt Pin for using a defibrillator to shock a heart attack victim back to life. “In this career, if you miss an assignment, the outcome could be tragic. It’s all about the team working together to make sure everything is done right. There is really no room for error in this job.”
The first generation Canadian and married father of two young children is proud of his Caribbean roots and his family’s accomplishments.
His father served in the Merchant Navy before migrating to Canada where he was as General Motors employee for 32 years. The family matriarch, Sepelene Deonarine, is an active community volunteer who trained as a nurse in England and was a former lactation consultant in maternal child clinical education at Lakeridge Health Oshawa.
Older brother, Auguste Deonarine, is a Workplace Safety & Insurance Board assistant director.
In his 12th year with the Ajax Fire Service, Deonarine wrote the acting captain exam this week.
‘That will give me the credentials to act as a captain,” the Master’s in public administration candidate and one of two Canadian representatives on the International Association of Firefighters human relations committee said. “Then once you get to that rank, you can apply to be platoon chief and then deputy chief.”
The Ajax Fire department was established in 1941 with 15 firefighters and a chief.