ST. PETERSBURG, Florida— Local firefighters working long weeks here in the Bay area are now using their days off to volunteer to help clean up and repair damaged homes in the Florida Keys.
They’re getting help from some local pilots shuttling the volunteers back and forth so they can get back in time to work their shifts.
A small crew of firefighters from Manatee and Sarasota Counties loaded up for a flight to the Florida Keys Monday afternoon. Their mission: to help dry out and clean up the homes of fellow firefighters many who haven’t had time off since the storm hit.
“We got to go check on our houses after the storm,” said Sarasota County Firefighter Ryan Jekonski. “These poor guys and girls never did. They still haven’t been back to their houses.”
Firefighters from across the state have flooded into South Florida to help in an official capacity but these guys are heading down as volunteers.
“Flying down there gives them the opportunity to take their two days off and they pick up chainsaws immediately,” said local dentist and retired airline pilot George Hitzel.
He’s donating his time to making it possible for the firefighters to make quick trips without having to kill 14 hours driving round trip.
I really felt like reaching out and helping in some way and the best way I know how is flying guys down who can do more work and help than I can,” said Hitzel.
“This guy stepping up and doing this,” said Capt. Joe Sicking of the Manatee North River Fire District. “It’s tremendous. We can get down there quick. 45 minutes or so, and get back the next day for a shift.”
It will be an intensive two days of hard work in the heat.
“They’re tarping roofs, boarding windows clearing debris,” said Sicking.
But these firefighters say it’s well worth the sacrifice before heading back to work as soon as they return.