When a controlled burn near Glen Lakes in northern Hernando County got out of control last month, the Hernando County Fire Corps knew exactly who to call for help.
Just a week prior, the Fire Corps had entered into an arrangement with the Salvation Army to provide food assistance for the firefighters and first responders who run extended calls.
Yet no one could have predicted that the cohesion of both services would be tested so quickly. And for all involved, the outcome was nearly incident free.
Charlie Kerrigan, commander of the Hernando County Fire Corp, said the purpose of the arrangement is to assist the Corps’ membership in providing needed assistance for emergency responders during emergencies.
“We have about 40 members,” he said. “But like most organizations, not all our members are active or available and not all members are trained in firefighter rehab.”
He explained that firefighters must be rehabbed after going through two air bottles or 45 minutes fighting a fire.
“We have to check their vital signs, check their blood pressure. We check their carbon monoxide levels and hydrate them with water. But if (the incident) goes longer than their shift, usually four hours, then they need to be fed.”
Kerrigan explained that the Corps has the capability to do smaller situations.
“But we don’t have the vehicles or readily available stocks to provide the food,” he said. “We are not logistically set up to do that.”
And that is where the Salvation Army stepped in.
When the fire jumped the controlled lines, the Fire Corps was able to call the Salvation Army and request their assistance.
Gary Stilson, who heads the food distribution for the Salvation Army, immediately jumped into action.
“We contacted Save-A-Lot, Publix, Winn-Dixie and Chick-fil-A, picked up the food and were distributing almost immediately.”
Stilson explained that the firefighters required a specific menu of items, including special meats, cheeses and foods high in energy. The supermarkets provided gift cards and Salvation Army volunteers collected the supplies. Chick-fil-A, a consistent contributor to community causes, donated enough meals for an estimated 140 people.
Within 30 minutes, everything was ready to be picked up, Stilson said.
The Hernando County Fire Corps is a team of volunteers that include retired military members, health care providers, firefighters, chiefs, teachers and business professionals.
“We have members from different backgrounds, some with little or no first aid or firefighting background,” Kerrigan said. “We provide their training so they can assist.”
The main function of the Fire Corp is to assist the community in various capacities that center on emergency situations. This includes providing education to prepare fellow citizens for emergencies, contributing to the safety of the community, providing first aid at public events, providing insights into the nation’s emergency service agencies and how they work, and assisting in rehab for first responders at emergencies sites.
The cohesion between the Fire Corp and the Salvation Army began when Stilson attended a Hurricane Expo last year and learned about the Corp. He took the information back to his captain, Josue Prieto, who followed up on making the arrangement happen.
“We had wanted to do something like this for a while,” said Prieto. “Gary told me about it and I started to plan to make it a reality.”
Key members of the Salvation Army will be added to the “One Call Now” list the Corps uses when an emergency hits. They will then be notified when a fire call goes out.
“You never know whether a fire call will extend beyond the four hours,” Kerrigan said. But principals will be ready to respond if necessary.
On Wednesday, the Hernando County Fire Corps met with the Hernando County Salvation Army on Cortez Boulevard to sign the formal agreement between the two organizations.
Volunteers from the Corp were in attendance, including Commander Charles Kerrigan, Deputy Commander of Operations Steve Katz, Training Officer Denis Riley, Deputy Commander of Administration MaryAnne Lazzell, Public Relations Officer Bill Dyer and Logistical Officer Anthony Pannone.
Prieto and Stilson from the Salvation Army were also in attendance to witness the milestone event that may become a model for other counties.
“It is still in the infancy stages,” Kerrigan added. “We are sure there are going to be hiccups in it. Although when we called these guys out that first time, it worked really well.”
For more information about the Hernando County Fire Corp, to volunteer or to donate, visit their website at www.hcfirecorps.org.