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As they help others, Ian firefighters neglect their own homes. That's where union solidarity steps in

 Cape Coral fire chief Christopher Moore assesses the damage done after three feet of water flooded his house.
Gerard Albert III
/
WLRN
Cape Coral fire chief Christopher Moore assesses the damage done after three feet of water flooded his house.

Firefighters in Southwest Florida are working around the clock to protect residents and don't have much time to repair their own homes. That's where the union is helping out, with firefighters from Broward among those stepping in.

Firefighters in Southwest Florida have been working almost nonstop to respond to emergencies after Hurricane Ian.

Not only do they have to worry about keeping the community safe — many local firefighters have damage to their own homes. But work often comes first.

Cape Coral Fire Chief Christopher Moore was only able to return to check on his house 20 hours after the storm hit.

"When we got here the house was in shambles, everything inside. I think one way to describe it it's almost like a washing machine: clothes, furniture, chairs that were normally in one place in the house were in other rooms, upside down, smashed through walls,” he said.

He took in the damage then turned around and went back to the station. There was a backlog of emergency calls.

Since then, the chief and his staff haven’t stopped working to make sure residents are safe. So Moore hasn’t had much time to care for his house, which flooded with about three feet of water.

“We realized we were going to have a lot of personal loss, but that gets pushed to the side to focus on what's at hand,” he said, speaking on behalf of himself and his crew.

It's in our nature... And in the event of a storm like this where we're off duty, we want to help our brothers and sisters out. Keith Costa, Fort Lauderdale firefighter

But, a week after the storm, help has arrived from across the state. The International Association of Fire Fighters has stepped in to send crews to work on the houses of their colleagues who are working around the clock on other missions.

Keith Costa, a member of the IAFF, is part of a crew of Fort Lauderdale firefighters who are now stationed, with others, in Bonita Springs. They come on their days off. Some go to work on houses, others hand out water and other supplies.

Wednesday afternoon his team started work on Moore’s home. "This house in particular is probably the worst house that we've been to today,“ said Costa.

At Moore’s home, a group worked to chainsaw through fallen trees in the backyard. The pile of tree limbs grew taller than the one-story home. The volunteers moved furniture to dry out in the patio. And boxes of family photos filled the rest of the space.

Inside, another group worked to pull off door frames, cut through drywall and remove the flooring. “Literally everything that was below that water line or near it is just getting ripped out,” Costa said.

Costa and the others worked through the heat with a smile. They told jokes and drank coconut water. Moore’s house was the fourth one that day.

 A Fort Lauderdale firefighter removes a door frame in Christopher Moore's Cape Coral home.
Gerard Albert III
/
WLRN
A Fort Lauderdale firefighter removes a door frame in Christopher Moore's Cape Coral home.

“It's in our nature, we come out every day we respond to 911 calls for other people. And in the event of a storm like this where we're off duty, we want to help our brothers and sisters out [it's] just what we do,” he said.

Moore has been sleeping at the fire station and will likely have months of work ahead of him. But that process was sped up, at least a little bit, from the help of other first responders.

“What these gentlemen are doing right now, it will definitely relieve a lot of stress," Moore said. "I've been trying to move out equipment or like a wet mattress, one person can barely move it. And the amount of work they've done would have taken me a month to do it ”

The firefighters from Fort Lauderdale worked through the afternoon to gut the house. Moore, who has lived there for 32 years, will have to remodel and replace almost everything.

"For me, the special memories are where our children were raised, they grew up here all through school, have gone on to have their own family, " Moore said.

"Now the grandkids come to the house. My daughter's in college. It's going to be tough for my daughter to come home and realize nothing she remembers that the house is left. So that's going to be very sad.”

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Gerard Albert III