The warm light of the afternoon sun shines through the window, silhouetting him and as he smiles. His young children are laughing in the background, somewhere watching TV with his wife, although he can’t tell.
Looking at me intently, I could see in his eyes he was ready to talk – something that not all people like he can do, something that he is lucky to be able to do, something that he loves to do. It’s such a simple thing, but he holds his ability to speak so close and precious to him.
I ask my first question and watch him, as he understands me, understands every word I say, amazingly, by only reading my lips and yet not hearing a word I say.
Damon Barrett, 32, is not your average man from the southeastern Perth suburb of Piara Waters. He was born with a severe hearing impairment that affects his everyday life. Even though he lives without something most people take for granted, he is amazingly still able to communicate. Although it’s often difficult, it doesn’t stop him from living his dream as a fire fighter.
“It’s not in my head … they had to check my nerves, but they are all good.
“Nothing’s wrong, it’s just inside my ears.”
Barrett (pictured) has always wanted to help the community. Unfortunately for him, one of the most important requirements is to be able to hear effectively.
He keeps applying for fire fighting jobs, but keeps getting knocked back.
He was however given the opportunity to volunteer for the Bedfordale Volunteer Bushfire Brigade.
Brigade captain, Michael Hall, 26, has been volunteering since he was 13.
“[Damon] is usually paired up with someone who obviously can hear, otherwise he goes about his business by himself,” Hall says.
“If he’s not with someone and we want to get his attention, we will just pull on the hose, and he’d turn around and see someone giving him a hand signal.”
As Barrett can’t hear when people call out his name, it is difficult to get his attention when he isn’t holding on to the hose or with a partner. He has now equipped himself with a buzzer to overcome this. If something goes wrong and the team wants his attention all they have to do is press the button and he will feel the vibrations.
“I have trouble communicating with them at night time, because it’s very pitch black and I just can’t see,” he says.
He clasps his hands together and stays silent for a couple minutes – all his cheerful energy subsiding as he withdraws into his mind, into a memory of the first time he knew he wanted to help people.
“Someone had a car crash – a head on collision,” he says as his hands come back alive and continue their energetic visual explanations.
Barrett vividly recalls the car accident and describes him pulling out the passengers and trying desperately to revive them and keep them breathing.
“… The driver, he started to breath … and then I saw the car and I was like: ‘Oh please don’t blow up!’” he recalls.
“All of a sudden the firemen came, the police came, the ambulance came, and they took over everything …
“Then I walked off, and that’s when I wanted to do something, or just volunteer for anything.”
The risks of him being a volunteer fire fighter are generally no more than anyone else if he is with a partner. However, in serious situations, Hall tends to not send him out first in case something goes wrong with communication.
Barrett had trouble fitting in in his younger years, being bullied for not being able to hear. But at the Bedfordale Volunteer Fire Brigade he feels at home, welcomed and accepted by everyone.
“Every now and again someone calls out his name but then remembers he’s deaf …,” Hall says.
“We make fun of him, he makes fun of us, we make a joke of it.
“Most of the time everyone’s actually keeping a really good eye on him and he would ask for assistance if he needs help.”
Not many people with hearing impairments are able to communicate as well as Barrett – he is definitely one of the lucky ones.
“I’ve got encouragement … encouragement from my family, all you have to do is be positive,” he smiles.
“I’m very lucky to what I have achieved… it was very hard, but things got better.”