BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) — It has become a given: When nature strikes, so do volunteers who call Louisiana home.
Members of Cajun Navy 2016 are watching Hurricane Dorian inch toward the U.S. mainland. Meteorologists predict the storm could damage parts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas — though wherever the winds and rains hit, the group’s helpers are ready to conduct search-and-rescue missions.
“Down here in South Louisiana, we have these big, soft hearts,” said Jon Bridgers, a Livingston Parish resident who founded Cajun Navy 2016 to help Louisiana’s flood survivors three years ago. “When we see someone in need, it’s natural to us to lend a hand.”
The organization’s cause has crossed state lines, with volunteers trekking to multiple storm-affected spots since 2016. Members include boaters, hunters and anglers familiar with guiding vessels through floodwaters.
Cajun Navy 2016’s volunteers consider themselves “second responders,” filling in the gaps first responders may either miss or lack the resources to help.
“There are some things the local sheriffs or police departments don’t have — airboats, chainsaws, tools to take trees apart,” said Triton Relief vice president Katie Pechon, whose Louisiana-based nonprofit aids storm responses. “That’s where all of us come in, to assist with extra means.”
Bridgers, whom President Donald Trump showcased in the 2018 State of the Union address, credits his fellow volunteers’ quick responses for saving lives.
“Local officials are having to go through a chain of command to get something approved that we can do in 15 minutes,” he told BRProud.com Monday. “But by the time [those officials] go through their process, it can take hours, maybe days.”
But Bridgers maintains his group keeps a strong working relationship with police, firefighters, EMTs and other public responders. His wife, Laurie Bridgers, argues that in Mother Nature’s path, everyone’s mission should stay the same.
“It’s not just about rescues, but it’s about getting to know people and getting to have those friendships,” she said. “It’s about fellowship.”