A Fire Fighter in the mountains of Nicaragua

Jorge Flores, firefighter from Nicaragua. © Zanetti
Jorge Flores, firefighter from Nicaragua. © Zanetti

For the 50th years annual of Welthungerhilfe I was working together with journalists on an illustrated book of 27 unusual people in Africa, Asia and Latin America and their stories. Therefore, Sandra Weiss met Jorge Flores form Nicaragua – and I like to present his story to you, dear Blog-Follower.

89 38 07 40 – everyone in Estelí seems to know this telephone number. Jorge Flores is a star in the small town in the mountains of Nicaragua. He is 1.76 metres tall, weighs 106 kilos, has shoulders like a bear, a charming dimple on his chin and is never short of a witty word or two. He gets a never-ending stream of phone calls and text messages. Jorge Flores is always on call. After all, it could be an emergency. At only nine years old, he did what other boys can only dream of: he became a fire fighter. At the time, the fire brigade of the town in the north of Nicaragua was short-staffed. The brigade’s chief saw potential in the strong boy and invited him to join the fire cadets. Jorge agreed to come along, just for fun. And stayed with the cadets – because he liked the camaraderie, the exercises, and the field trips. He realised this was his vocation when he was 15 years old. Hurricane Mitch devastated the Central American country and Jorge was called out at midnight, together with his older colleagues. They faced utter chaos – water, mud, desperate people, and destroyed homes. Jorge kept his cool and rescued an 80-year-old woman from a flooded house.

She hugged me really tight, and thanked me. That made me cry, and suddenly gave me so much strength that I carried on working and helping others throughout the night.

At the time, the fire brigade was the only emergency service to get there fast. But they were lacking equipment, training, and personnel. The brigade consisted of only two emergency vehicles and only ten fully trained men. The extent of the disaster was too much for them to cope with. They worked day and night until they were utterly exhausted.

The man who was a teenager when hurricane Mitch struck has long since grown into a respectable family man. Nicaragua is a country frequently visited by disasters: erupting volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods. Every mission takes the members of the emergency services to their limits. Jorge has saved dozens of human lives, and also experienced many terrible things. Traffic accidents, the loss of a dear friend and colleague who drowned in a torrential river because the safety rope snapped. His face clouds when he talks about things like that, but he tolds us:

I will die in service. Giving my life for that of someone else whom I have rescued, that would be my fulfilment. 

Great responsibilities rest on Jorge Flores´ broad shoulders

The 28-year-old has played an important role in turning the fire brigade into a professional institution, and in training volunteer disaster recovery brigades. Welthungerhilfe supported the project financially, but it was Jorge’s passionate commitment that turned the seeds sown into a success. No wonder, that the Fire Sergeant. Is adored by all young girls, respected by his elders, the centre of attention at all family get-togethers,

Today, Estelí has four fire engines, a professional fire brigade with 16 trained members and hundreds of volunteers whom Jorge has trained. He has shown them how to give first aid to injured people, how to climb trees, and how to carefully cross torrential rivers.

The volunteer brigades are a totally new disaster management concept.

There is no need for Jorge to tell you that he is someone who leads a fulfilled life, content with himself and his lot. You can see that by just looking at him. He does not have a car, or a flat screen TV or a smartphone – he does not care about luxuries . Jorge dreams of other things. He has experienced climate change, how the cool nights and the early morning mists have vanished. He has not had to wear his thick anorak for years. Instead, nature has become imbalanced: it either rains too much or too little, the crops either wither or rot, the forests are on fire, the rivers break their banks. One disaster follows hard on the heels of the next; Jorge is always needed. He would not mind being unemployed for a while sometimes. When I was a child, I was scared of the Estelí river, because it was so wide and deep, now it is just a dirty little stream all year round.

That is why he dreams of the old days, of wandering through the hillside coffee plantations through the morning mists like he did when he was a child, of then watching the white curtain of mist lift slowly to give way to the tropical sun whilst sitting on the veranda of his house in a rocking chair with a cup of freshly brewed, steaming coffee in his hands.

My dream would be to be able to show my children how beautiful Nicaragua once was.

Story written by Sandra Weiss, free journalist in Puebla, Mexico

Read the full story in our illustrated book: http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/bildband.html

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