Firefighters, part-time residents describe rescues, repairs on Sanibel

Reporter: Taylor Petras Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Sanibel firefighters all sharing a single station, Wednesday, October 26, 2022. Credit: WINK News

Most of Sanibel is still unrecognizable one month after Hurricane Ian. The former vacation destination once filled with tourists and snowbirds is now awash with workers, like the firefighters who have been busy there since the first evacuations.

Sanibel firefighters tried to return later the same night they evacuated the island for the storm, but Capt. John Dimaria says he never expected the causeway would collapse. They had to get there by boat to start rescuing the people who rode out the storm on Sanibel, over 1,000 of them.

Dimaria took WINK News around the island on Wednesday. He explained what it was like to have to wait to respond until the storm calmed down and what some of the challenges were while going door to door to rescue people.

“It was tough for the most part,” Dimaria said. “The ones that we could gain access to was fairly easy and helping get their belongings and getting them off the island. The ones that we had to try to make our way through was a little bit tougher, and we eventually made our way through and eventually got them off… chainsaws, you know, heavy equipment. Trying to get their driveways cleared so we could get them out safely.”

Rubble lies scattered along the road on Sanibel, Wednesday, October 26, 2022. Credit: WINK news

Sanibel’s fire stations weren’t spared from the storm. One of them had 5 to 6 feet of water inside. The firefighters don’t know if it can be saved, so they are all operating out of a single station for the time being. Dimaria says they’re now responding to more repair-related injuries because so many linemen and contractors are on Sanibel. Fire crews also hope to prevent incidents like the massive fire from a couple of weeks ago, in which more than a dozen electric golf carts burst into flames.

“We have just completed an electrical vehicle removal mission, which included removing 209 electric vehicles from homes to ensure we were protecting properties,” said Sanibel Fire Chief Kevin Barbot. “We have spared all properties from being damaged, but that hasn’t stopped electric vehicles from catching on fire. We had one yesterday. Our call volume has definitely changed in what we are handling, but we’re ready, we’re here and we’ll take care of it.”

Some final numbers from the Sanibel Fire Control and Rescue District: Urban search and rescue teams assessed 5,126 structures. 33 were destroyed, nearly 2,200 had major damage and more than 2,500 had minor damage.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.