Without a firehouse, Mossy Pond Volunteer Fire Department saving lives despite incredible odds

By: Sophia Hernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News
October 9, 2019

MOSSY POND, Fla. (WCTV) – In Calhoun County, Hurricane Michael not only destroyed homes, local businesses and livelihoods: It changed the lives of those who sacrifice their time and service.

Those select few are part of the Mossy Pond Volunteer Fire Department. What was once a group of about 12, is now a small group of seven. Five of the members were in attendance at their bi-monthly meeting this past Sunday.

The Sunday morning started of with hugs and hellos, as Alicia Rhodes, along with her husband, Dominic, and her children, opened the doors to the Mossy Pond Public Library.

The group was forced to relocate after they lost their headquarters to Hurricane Michael. The firehouse was left completely destroyed, but it has not stopped the tiny but mighty group from continuing to serve their community.

Duncan Harvey has been Chief of the volunteer group for many years. As a volunteer of 14 years with the program, the work they do is meaningful. And to see the place filled with memories and hard work disappear, left Harvey shaken.

"It was discouraging, everything I had done for many years was for not you know," he said.

But June Harvey, Duncan's wife, added, "We will never let a call go unanswered. Never. It's just not our way."

The group sees it through.

June has been a volunteer for a little over a year. When Michael hit and her co-workers were out helping, she stuck by her day job, acting as manager of the library, which acted as a shelter for more than 140 people during the storm.

The volunteer firefighter crew was shortstaffed after Michael passed through, but the real hit was to the firehouse.

Duncan says seeing his second home destroyed in seconds was a hard pill to swallow.

"All of our equipment was inside that firehouse and the walls were still standing, there is no roof the out building which stored two trucks was gone, totally gone," he recalled.

While the big red building may be just that, to these passionate individuals, it was the foundation that held them all together.

Duncan explains it best, "Our firehouse is our heart, and we are just vessels that have to go through the firehouse. Everything we do starts and ends at the firehouse."

The destruction includes but is not limited to; roof damage, black mold, trucks damaged, loss of supplies and destruction of their outhouse.

"It is very frustrating and I am sure if their were things that if we were better organized because we had a firehouse maybe we could have responded sooner maybe we could have gotten the fire out sooner," Rhodes said.

But the group has managed to find solutions. One of which is hosting their meetings at the library, where they are making do.

A storage closet is their new office. It holds their records and files, as well as maps, walkies, and whiteboard.

Rhodes explains the purpose behind the board, which is used to calculate who goes to which calls and how many calls they have completed in the year thus far: 174.

And while the library is a permanent home, Rhodes shares it is not a permanent fix, "I mean everything you would need would be right there, you can get it and go. It makes it fast, it makes it quick, it makes it streamlined."

She furthers, "It makes it very difficult or confusing to try and answer calls where as we should be able to, when a call comes out we should all meet at the station."

Chief Harvey shares the same concerns, "None of our equipment is there, it has to be elsewhere. It just makes it time consuming for what we are trying to do in the community, because it causes a delay in time."

Almost a year after the storm, Harvey is desperate for things to return to normal.

"We just need a firehouse we need a building, some kind of secure building so we have a place that everyone can meet and go from there," he said. "We can't hardly function without it."

Despite the challenges, this team is dedicated to the cause.

As seen on a map in their makeshift office, Dominic Rhodes illustrates that they respond to any call within a 15 mile radius. Being an outlying rural county, their volunteer department is the first responding unit, as the closest hospital in either direction is almost 30 minutes away.

Harvey observes, "It's life or death essentially. Because if we can't get to them to at least stabilize, they are in trouble they are in trouble."

Rhodes knows that their work is not for the faint-hearted, "If it was not for us answering the call there are people that would lose their lives before the ambulance could even get there."

But the team has a spirit and unwavering passion for their community of Mossy Pond, and they are doing what they can, because Rhodes says it is what she needs to do.

"A lot of times I am usually the last one on a fire scene because I have to take my girls to my mom first and then come back to the scene but at least I am there. I can grab a hose and help," she said.

While their dedication takes the volunteers a long way, they are still awaiting a new station. And without their main facility to operate out of, they are in even more dire need of volunteers and money.

The group is currently awaiting for FEMA funds to arrive, but they are also needing their community and county to step up. The Mossy Pond Volunteer Fire Department had to cancel one of their two fundraisers for the year, because it usually takes place at the firehouse which is no longer able to use.

These fundraisers are what they are solely funded on.

"It's $42,000 just to get the blueprints made for a fire department. We don't have $42,000. We don't have half of that," Rhodes states.

In order to even rebuild their firehouse, they need funds Rhodes explains, "We are doing the best we can, there has been so much improvement there really has but it's not enough."

What is also not enough; the amount of helping hands.

June takes a look at their group of five, because two volunteers had called in sick. Many in the area have moved elsewhere or tended to their own homes or damages during Hurricane Michael. She says they are desperate for anyone who can make the time to even just file paperwork or respond to phone calls to help, "You want us to save your house, help us save somebody else's house. If you want us to save your life, help us save somebody else's life."

In the meantime, this group is giving their all to save lives, which has given Rhodes a different sense of purpose, "It does give you a sense of I am doing what I can for more then just me, and that's I think important."

With tears in his eyes, Chief Duncan gets emotional, "You do what you can and every little bit is helpful."

The volunteer fire department at Mossy Pond helping their neighbors recover, while they await for a fresh start for their station.

If you are interested in helping, you can email Sophia Hernandez at: sophia.hernandez@wctv.tv.