Person of the Year (Readers’ Choice)!
is said that if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. Some 60 percent of STAR readers who evidently believe in the axiom have voted Shane Felix their Person of the Year.
Originally from Piaye, near Laborie, Felix joined the Saint Lucia Fire Service (SLFS) in November of 1999 and has made firefighting and being a first respondent his life’s passion. Over the years he has served in various capacities on the executive of not just the local fire department but also the Caribbean Association of Firefighters.
In 2014 Felix led the charge to continue pressing for better working conditions for firefighters. He also stepped up the pressure on the government to release the findings of a commission of enquiry into the fire service and for the implementation of its recommendations. For some time Felix had called for the resolution of grievances including the failure to appoint and promote officers. He also levelled accustaions of sexual harrassment and sexual improriety on the part of senior officers towards their female coounterparts.
Back in 2012, after years of accusations levelled at the top brass in the fire service, the government set up an enquiry. In December of that year it was announced that commissioner Dr. Francis Alexis, Q.C. would head it. However, more than a year after the commission delivered its report (Felix and fire chief Leslie Fontenelle were among those who testified), there was no word from the government. Felix and his association took their complaints to the media, to no avail. They resorted to sickouts, also to no avail.
Finally, on 1 September 2014 the firefighters downed tools with the support of more than 100 colleagues across the country, impacting the island’s ports as well as medical and health services. The protest action which got support from a number of other trade unions, also caught the attention of the prime minister. In an address to the nation he said the matter was in the hands of the Public Service Commission (PSC) but nevertheless changes would be made at the highest level of the fire service.
Fire Chief Leslie Fontenelle was seconded to the Saint Lucia Air and Seaports Authority. Then the PSC released the report from the commission of enquiry but a swipe was taken at Felix: he received from the PSC a letter of intent to pursue disciplinary action against him on a matter dating back to 2013.
Felix remained relentless and appeared focussed in his pursuit of justice and in the end was victorious. The impasse was called off when, in the absence of Kenny Anthony, the acting prime minister Philip J. Pierre announced a truce and gave his assurance that the grievances of the SLFS would be fully addressed.
Felix was openly declared a hero by his fellow fighters but in an interview with the STAR he insisted that the fight was never about himself but “about justice” for his colleagues.
Meanwhile he campaigned in favour of the rule of law and for a better working environment “that will allow us to carry out our duties to the Saint Lucian public”.
Just last week the SLFS re-elected Shane Felix as its leader. And now our readers have essentially seconded the motion by declaring Felix their Person of the Year 2014. As we speak, Shane Felix, who is also an avid supporter of local culture, particularly from his rich cultural heritage surroundings in Piaye and Choiseul, is busy preparing for an activity this weekend. It will be in honour of Clifton “Dou Dou” Joseph, a culture hero from the community of Piaye who passed away this week. In next week’s STAR Felix pays tribute to Joseph.