Below is an excerpt from Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Barbot to the Sanibel community that was posted on our Facebook page when he was sworn in as fire chief in October 2022. These are his words:
I want to take time to honor and ensure our community understands even a glimpse of what your Fire District, this incredible team, has succeeded in and overcome over these last 4 weeks. Despite their own homes being devastated and personal loss, every single member of our crew (and many of our wives/family members) were out on the island nearly every day.
On September 29th, our team arrived to find the causeway devastated and immediately felt helpless to our community. Sanibel Fire and Rescue District immediately switched gears and had to find a way. SFRD found Port Comfort Marina and connected with the owner. This streamlined what would become base ops for first responders and essential workers coming across the bay. This location has been essential from the very beginning search and rescue efforts, up through operations today.
Our team, along with Sanibel Police Department, were first on the island and arrived at the Sanibel boat ramp. Once on land, our team came upon bicycles blown into the trees and we were able to use them as we surveyed the destruction, making our way down Periwinkle to Station 171. Massive trees and palms blocked most of the way down Periwinkle, making the trek to our station lengthy and one nobody should ever experience. Your Fire District knew we would first need access for a route from city facilities and Station 171 to the boat ramp. Our team spoke with City of Sanibel Public Works and received authorization to run heavy equipment to facilitate the absolutely vital clearing of our main artery (Periwinkle Way) for the mission ahead. The Sanibel Fire and Rescue District on this first day began its multi-day operation of evacuating what would become approximately 1,000 residents from Sanibel. Many local, state, and federal partners began coming in for rescue efforts.
On day two, your Fire District made it possible to ferry and evacuate more of our citizens by contacting the owner of Adventures in Paradise, who authorized the Fire District to operate his 50-person vessel. This ferry not only allowed first responders and essential workers to the island but would travel to the island and back for twelve hours straight that day. Your Fire District personnel were at the helm of this vessel for the entirety of the day (12 hours).
On this same day, our District was able to organize our operations and push for a centralized command post. SFRD became the HUB for most day-to-day operations from this day on. City of Sanibel Public Works understood that the primary responsibility for this mission was to ensure we reached as many properties as possible. I would like to extend a thank you from our Fire District to Public Works, for their trust and allowing our guidance to take the helm on which areas should take precedence in clearing.
Your Fire District, with the help of Lightning Wireless Solutions, was able to enhance operations across all agencies assisting in our Island’s recovery by establishing streamline devices that would allow each to communicate together on Island. The Fire District also made it our mission to not only provide for our team, but also ensured that all working agencies on Island were fed each day with the help of the World Central Kitchen, many local organizations, and restaurants. This second day was filled with rescues, evacuations, and a team-oriented approach to the mission that was before us.
Operations have changed from search and rescue, and we have now pivoted to providing and caring for our residents through our humanitarian efforts. Your Fire District has provided rides to residents trying to make it back to their homes. We have made it a primary goal to prevent further damage to your properties by removing lithium assets from your structures. Our team is providing our residents with free tarps, plywood, and carbon monoxide detectors.
Sanibel Island guests and residents are blessed to have a Fire District with a crew that has shown more love, compassion, resiliency, grit and determination for our Island than anyone can comprehend. Our team has worked endlessly and given it all to forge ahead as we rebuild and grow as a community together.
– Kevin Barbot – Fire Chief