Boynton's fire rescue department on Nov. 22 promoted Erick Joassaint to lieutenant, making him the city's first Haitian-American to gain the title. He is one of 29 lieutenants among the department's three shifts.
(TNS) — Beaming next to a Boynton firetruck, the word "lieutenant" etched to the right of his collar, a 13-year department veteran said he never thought he'd be a firefighter.
"I pretty much fell in love," said Erick Joassaint, 39. "This is for me."
Boynton's fire rescue department on Nov. 22 promoted Joassaint to lieutenant, making him the city's first Haitian-American to gain the title. He is one of 29 lieutenants among the department's three shifts and one of nine promotions in 2019.
But before Joassaint was running 24-hour shifts, translating for Creole speakers and responding to calls from births to child fatalities, he was a 20-something with a business management degree and a bank job.
Even before then, he was a Nassau-born 8-year-old with a student visa growing up in Delray Beach. His father and late mother had immigrated to the Bahamian capital from Haiti, where his dad would return.
Life in Palm Beach County took Joassaint through grade school, two years in community college and then at Florida Atlantic University. He landed a bank gig but its reality was not fulfilling: He wanted to help, inspire, feel proud.
A chance encounter with a Pompano firefighter who oozed pride showed Joassaint what a career overhaul could look like.
So he signed up for EMT school and in March 2007 joined Boynton's department.
The next year he also became a U.S. citizen.
While Joassaint says he started with Boynton's fire rescue department as a probationary "wide-eyed rookie" who was "super nervous, and all that good stuff," it now takes him some moments to remember his first call. It might've been a downed wire, he concludes.
After all, in nearly 13 years with the department, he's been on front lines of myriad emergencies: chest pain, labor, crashes, drownings, too many deaths to count. The most tragic of those have involved kids, he said, who "haven't really gotten to live life yet."
Joassaint said those cases can spur emotions, but he works to keep everything in its place without dwelling. Talking with others who worked with him on calls and keeping close with his support system help him manage the job's tougher days, he said.
His own supports include a wife, Marybeth, a 2-year-old daughter, Eva, and a baby boy, Elijah, due to be born this month. He said he hopes his story can empower his kids and others to try new things and approach them boldly.
"If it's something you want, go for it," he said. "Don't be afraid."
If Joassaint keeps climbing department ranks, his next step is captain.
Whether he thinks that'll happen, he says: "Maybe, one day."
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