Francis knows how to deal with disasters, not only with individual ones, but also bigger, devastating ones. The 42 year old is a firefighter in St Lucia, one of the Windward Islands of the Caribbean. “As a firefighter you help people at the most vulnerable times,” Francis explains. “But my job is not only to extinguish fire and save lives.” As a member of the fire prevention section of the fire department, Francis shows people how to prevent fire in their homes and their communities, but also how to prepare for other disasters like landslides and floods, caused by hurricanes. “We help our people with every hazard that can harm them.”

Teaching his fellow St Lucians about disasters and how to best prepare for them is not an easy task.

We always believe it won’t happen to us. It happens to others, to our neighbours in other countries, on other islands. But it doesn’t happen here in St Lucia.” Francis says. “We always say: God is a St Lucian.

The last major hit St Lucia suffered from was in 2010, when Hurricane Tomas killed ten people, made 2,000 people homeless and caused the highest economic loss in the recent history of St Lucia. “People become desensitized. They heavily criticize the agencies which try to assist them, when they were told to prepare for a disaster, expect the worst - and then nothing happens,” the firefighter explains. “In addition, most of the people prepare only for a single event. They get a hurricane warning and they prepare for it, if they do it at all,” Francis continues. “That is not ‘preparedness’! The hurricane season is six months long, and it goes beyond…” With the increasing number of hurricanes in the Caribbean, it is only a matter of time that the next devastating storm will fall ashore in St Lucia.

To help changing people’s mindset, Francis took six months off from his work as a firefighter and joined NEMO, the National Emergency Management Organisation, as a volunteer. NEMO orchestrates all aspects of preparedness and response to disasters and other emergency situations in St Lucia. It is a network of committees, which function at the national, and – as Disaster Committees – on local levels. 18 of these committees exist on the island. People of the local communities elect the members to serve for the local committees as volunteers.

For the past months I have been working with the Disaster Committees in four communities where they are not active, not functional. I assisted in getting them going. We already had committee elections in all four districts.

Through NEMO, Francis heard about St John’s Disaster Preparedness Project for the first time “My director told me about the project, and since I already worked with the Disaster Committees, I was assigned to work alongside St John to help strengthen the committees.” Francis remembers. “It is interesting that the very communities where the Disaster Committees were not functional at all are the ones St John selected to support. These are the same communities I am working with.” 

As a professional firefighter, Francis knows St John as a first aid organisation: "St John has been very active in building skills in the area of first aid. I saw many of their training programmes, and I personally recommended many people to St John for first aid training.” The firefighter is confident that St John’s Disaster Preparedness Project will make difference:

I think a lot will change. St John is well respected in St Lucia. If they carry out such project in the communities, it will do a great deal of good and help the communities to prepare for disasters.

In the coming months, St John will coach the newly elected committee members in disaster preparedness, first aid and community contingency planning. The newly established Disaster Committees will continue raising awareness in their communities and implement disaster preparedness measures, such as ongoing training of the local people.

Read more about our Disaster Preparedness Programme in St Lucia