Fire Officer volunteers help in hurricane hotspot

Fire Officer used skills to support the international relief effort in the British Virgin Islands.

 
Last updated:
23 October 2017

Fire Officer Phil Maynard used skills gained in West Sussex to support the international relief effort in the British Virgin Islands following the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

For the last 18 months Phil has been volunteering with Team Rubicon, a charity which uses the skills of military and 999 personnel to provide relief to those affected by disaster.

Using annual leave from his WSFRS role in Mid Sussex, Phil initially spent four days working at the team's Mission Hub in Wiltshire, helping to coordinate their relief effort, before flying out to the Caribbean on October 2.

The charity deployed more than 60 people to help some of the worst-hit islands. Most, like Phil, worked in very small teams.

He said: “Team Rubicon achieved a lot through collaboration with the military and other charity organisations, including the provision of clean water and repairs to property and infrastructure.

“I was already helping in the ops room at HQ when we heard about a third wave of deployment and I was really keen to get involved as it was my first mission overseas.
 
“After training, eight of us flew to Antigua, as that was the nearest flight we could get, before splitting up and travelling on to Tortola and Virgin Gorda.

“I initially went to Tortola and, as you came in to land, you could see all of these up-turned boats and ferries. The main road was devastated and there were cars smashed to pieces. In many of the poorer areas people had been living in shacks that were just blown apart. They lost everything.”

Phil then travelled on to Virgin Gorda, where his Incident Command experience gained in West Sussex was used to help mentor a team and to run strike units, carrying out specific tasks.

He said: “We carried out running repairs to schools, making them safe from things like hanging metal, pumping out flooded classrooms and cleaning away mould to help make the buildings useable again. Lots of people who had lost their homes were sheltering in school buildings, so we helped them move back to shelter where they lived to set the schools up for teaching again.

“We also worked with the airport fire service to carry out roof repairs at the terminal and to replace broken doors and windows. That will help get relief to the area and also to bring back much-needed tourism.

“There were frustrations, seeing extreme wealth alongside extreme poverty, and the government there doesn’t have enough money to get everything back to normal – for example, one individual is paying £7,000 a day to try and get electricity back but there is still half the island without power.

“But the positives far outweighed the negatives. There were times where strangers were hugging us or bringing us food to thank us. We had school teachers trying to help us too, almost too much sometimes as it wasn’t always safe for them.

“I met a fantastic nurse. She lost her house, above her clinic, in the hurricane but went downstairs and spent four days treating people on her own without any support or electricity.

“We helped install a radio station, to improve communication across the island, and the Incident Command team we set up is still running and being held up as an example of best practice.”

Since its inception in 2015 Team Rubicon UK has deployed 160 volunteers to 14 international operations, and 3 UK domestic operations, and Phil is planning to set aside two weeks of his annual leave for the charity every year.

To find out more visit the Team Rubicon website - www.teamrubiconuk.org - where you can also donate directly to Team Rubicon's hurricane relief effort.

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service is at the heart of West Sussex County Council's Communities and Public Protection Directorate, working to support communities to become safer, stronger and more resilient through a combination of prevention, protection and response activities.

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