January 28, 2014
Officer Derby – Always there for the people

There are some people, who despite their heroics or positive community work, would prefer not to be mentioned.{{more}}

Police Constable Steaven Derby is one of these people.

Now more than a month following the Christmas Eve trough system, which claimed nine lives and displaced many others, Derby continues to be a pillar of strength for people forced to live in shelters, with no reduction in his commitment and enthusiasm since he began lending assistance the moment things went bad, back on December 24, 2013.

The Buccament Bay resident and police constable for the past 21 years, was the shelter manager at the Buccament Bay Secondary School and now the Rillan Hill Community Centre, and said it has been a pleasure being able to assist displaced people in any way he can.

On Christmas Eve, Derby recalled being at home assisting his girlfriend when one of his neighbours came to his house and told him that his (neighbour) brother’s house was being washed away.

“I ran out without any shoes and I was in a short pants. So I ran down there and tried to get the children out and save some stuff because at that time, the water was almost waist deep,” Derby told SEARCHLIGHT.

According to Derby, he went back to his home to put on his shoes and by the time he went back down the road, the water had already taken over.

As the raging waters continued its destruction, Derby was busy accommodating members of two families at his home.

“I had to put them there to sleep. I have three bedrooms and my family isn’t large. So I had to make my house like a shelter for my immediate neighbours,” he added.

Following that, Derby said he received a telephone call from Nicole Bonadie-Baker, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, asking him to mobilize people for the shelter at the Buccament Bay Secondary School and give a head count of people

“This was just after 11 and the water had subsisded and I had 29 persons at the shelter… NEMO was then called in and they brought sleeping bags and other items for those stationed there.”

Derby recalled, during Hurricane Tomas back in 2010, he also had to assist some of his neighbours to get to the shelter.

“I had to battle through the storm to help people to get to the Buccament Bay Secondary School which is an emergency shelter but I had to go for the keys from a woman who lives in the village. That one was one the most daring things I had to do. Galvanize was flying from everywhere…,” Derby recounted.

For his bravery, Derby was made the official shelter manager then.

Following the January 13 reopening of schools, people

had to be relocated from the Buccament Bay Secondary to the Rillan Hill Community Centre.

Currently 23 people are housed at the shelter in Rillan Hill and there, Derby is being assisted by Vernette McDowall, a retired teacher of Layou.

Outlining some of his tasks, Derby said he would ensure that people are doing well and that they get the necessary attention on a daily basis.

“We have doctors and counsellors coming through here from time to time… I stress on the importance of keeping this newly refurbished building clean and in good condition for others in the event of other disasters,” he added.

He said there are people sent by the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), who cook on a daily basis and provide the people in the shelter with three meals per day.

While most of it is smooth sailing, Derby hinted that the job is not without its fair share of challenges.

“All the persons here are displaced and we have persons coming from different backgrounds and sometimes it is difficult for them to get along…”

He has held a meeting with the displaced residents, aimed at helping them to get along with each other.

“A few things have been happening here that we do not approve of and we are trying to stress the importance of living with each other. We do not know how long they are going to be here, but the fact that everyone is under one roof, they should be living as one big family…,” Derby said.

While that issue is Derby’s biggest challenge he says his training as a police officer has prepared him well for the task.

Having worked in the fire department, Derby said he was trained for similar situations.

He, however, admitted that spending most of his time carrying out duties at the shelter has put a bit of a strain on his family life.

“I know I have my family. Mrs McDowall has her family and we have to be here all day for the people. Sometimes whenever the auxillary police come to secure the place, I go home and then come back early in the morning to relieve him…”

“It has taken a toll on my family life. I have a young child who is nearly two years old and he’s accustomed to me and when his mother brought him to the shelter yesterday, he was asking about his daddy…,” the father of three said.

Derby has, however, given the assurance that if there is another major disaster, he will do what he is doing all over again.

“I’m just a community spirited person. I would put myself in this situation 100 times again if I have to. I take pleasure in helping and by helping them I know I am bringing some kind of comfort and relief to someone. It’s just in my nature to help people.”

The officer has also come in for high praise from Commissioner of Police, Michael Charles.

Charles commended Derby for doing a “marvellous job” as shelter manager.

“He actually went into the Buccament centre on Christmas Eve night and took it on his own to help keep things in order there… He’s doing such a good job there,” Charles told SEARCHLIGHT in an interview on January 8.

Derby said, while he is grateful for the outpouring of gratitude shown towards him, he is not doing anything to gain recognition.

“I am just humble. I am doing this because it comes from the heart. It is something I take pleasure in doing,” he proudly stated. .