nd disability support devices (e.g. walkers, crutches, and wheelchairs) for residents in need. With assistance from a local politician and two NGOs the fire station in Chepo expanded its outreach by becoming a clearing house for the distribution of not only food and disability devices, but a wide variety of much-needed resources including beds and water purification filters. The fire department has become an essential community resource in the distribution of items that improve the quality of life for some of the poorest residents.
3) A third key to success is reputation for disseminating accurate, useful information. As is common in many parts of the world, the fire station in Chepo regularly offers clinics that seek to improve fire safety and awareness among local residents. Clearly, the fire department has a reputation for being the source of beneficial information. With assistance from an international NGO, it became an easy leap for the fire department to begin offering information about proper health and sanitation. First, the community bulletin board was used as a means to communicate warnings about immediate health and safety risks. Then, drawing upon their medical background as paramedics, the fire department personnel began offering classes to disadvantaged members of the community that focus on health and safety issues. These expanded services have greatly improved the lives of local residents.
4) One of the most important keys in the successful distribution of relief aid is an understanding of the prevailing culture. When aid is offered in a manner that is compatible with local cultural tradition, the efforts are more fruitful. Because fire department personnel are permanent residents within the community, they know and understand the nuances of the local culture. This has proven to be particularly helpful within the city of Chepo and its surrounding area because there is a sizeable Kuna Indian population that practices distinct cultural traditions. The aid that firefighters offer is well received because it is distributed in a culturally appropriate manner.
In 2007, the world became predominantly urban when 50 percent of the total population was found living in cities. Every indication suggests that the global population will continue to become more urban with most of the growth unfolding in cities of the Global South. As the world community seeks to improve the quality of life for all individuals, the locus for fighting global poverty needs to shift from rural areas to the cities. As this article illustrates, the fire station is an often overlooked, yet effective resource that can be used to reach the urban poor. Fire fighting personnel have the trust and confidence of the community, they have demonstrated experience with community outreach, they have a record of disseminating useful information, and they possess a clear understanding of local cultural traditions. The fire station in Chepo, Panama has successfully by-passed the thick layers of bureaucracy and is effectively reaching the city’s urban poor. The experience in Chepo is not isolated or unique, rather the practices followed in Chepo should be applicable to other cities in the Global South.