V.I. Fire Service sergeant and EMT Magabe Calixte has been named the St. Thomas-St. John district’s employee of the year, but Calixte would argue it’s the team he works with that deserves the recognition.

“I work with a good set of guys,” said Calixte, who oversees nine men in his squad. “They do what needs to be done and there’s not too much bickering or complaining about the task at hand. I’m just the person in charge; they’re the ones who do the actual work. They’re the ones that should be recognized in my opinion.”

Calixte, who was born in St. Lucia and has lived on St. John since the young age of 3, said he didn’t initially have ambitions of becoming a firefighter when he joined the fire service in 2005.

Friends of his who were working with the service told him more firefighters were needed, so Calixte and his good friend Clarence Stephenson — now St. John’s V.I. Fire Service deputy chief — decided to join together.

“Magabe is like a brother to me,” said Stephenson. “We pushed each other and he’d be the first person to tell me if I am messing up. He’s a hard worker and a dedicated friend and father.”

Calixte noted that the travel and trainings he’s been able to take part in have been a highlight of his 15-plus years with the fire service.

From training at Texas A&M’s Disaster City to radiation training in Las Vegas, Calixte said he’s been able to do and see a lot of interesting things. Responding to calls on his home island has also been eye opening, albeit in a very different way.

“I’ve been on scene for the majority of accidents, rollovers, crashes, and extrications over the last 15 years,” said Calixte. “I usually know damn near everybody I’ve helped pull out of a crashed vehicle. I’ve pulled friends from vehicles over the hillside down in Reef Bay, and I’ve had friends who died on scene. I even had to respond to a crash involving my two sons who were pretty seriously injured. It hits home real fast.”

In those intense moments, the sergeant said he relies on his training to help him get through; emotions are processed after the fact.

“You stick to your training, because the training tells you what to do,” said Calixte. “You remove yourself from the role of friend and put yourself in the provider role until the situation is over. While you’re on the scene as a responder you can’t break down because people need you. That’s the hardest part.”

Calixte shared the lesson he’s learned after responding to numerous vehicular accidents over the years: “Don’t drive for yourself; you have to drive for the other people on the road.”

When he’s not working with the fire service, Calixte can often be found at Healthy Alternatives, the CBD retail store he opened in January 2020 with partner Charmaine Vante.

The duo also works in villa maintenance, undertaking fire pre-inspection prep and personal asset management. With multiple responsibilities to juggle, Calixte said he takes things day by day.

“Live for today and plan for tomorrow,” he said.

Adding to the challenges he faces, Calixte said Healthy Alternatives has faced an uphill battle between the coronavirus pandemic and the V.I. government’s slow progress on establishing the laws that will govern medical cannabis, which was made legal in 2019 by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.

Visitors come into the store almost daily with their medical cannabis cards, said Calixte, who can only sell CBD products until the Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Board is fully appointed and has created the regulations that will govern the sale of cannabis products.

“It’s taught us how to be resilient and how to reinvent,” Calixte said. “Since the pandemic, everyone’s been into keeping their immune systems up and detoxing so we went into that trend, but CBD is coming back now for everyone who has aches and pains and anxiety.”

As for his role as V.I. Fire Service sergeant, Calixte said he has no plans to step away from that responsibility.

“I’ll stay as long as I’m physically able,” he said. “I made a commitment to the community.”