A Brief History of the Upper Captiva Fire Department
Prior to the 1960’s, small fish camps and ice houses were the only evidence of modern settlements on North Captiva Island. Circa 1967, advertisements for the island were showing up in newspapers and periodicals around the country. The Island had been discovered.
In 1972, after a few minor fires and some medical events, the pioneers of the island took the first steps to form some type of emergency response organization. Soon, the Upper Captiva Homeowners and Environmental Protections Association (UCHEPA) was formed.
Five years later, Lee County donated the first emergency vehicle, a 1948 Army ambulance. Unfortunately, it was lost in a brush fire a year later. 1979 was the first year of the Upper Captiva Fireman’s Fund, an organization created to accept contributions from homeowners. With a donation-based revenue stream, the UCHEPA changed its name to Upper Captiva Volunteer Fire Company. Long-time islander Russ Reed was named the department’s first volunteer Fire Chief and on November 22, 1979, the Pine Island Fire Department donated a 1953 pumper to serve as the department’s first fire truck.
Changes were in motion. Articles of Incorporation were signed during January 1984 to form the Upper Captiva Volunteer Fire Department Inc. The original signers were: John and Jane Pugh, Bud Brilhart, Shelby Creagh, Peter McKinny, Barbara Miklavcic and Russ and Thelma Reed. Land was donated by Safety Harbor Club (SHC) for the first fire station and SHC assisted with the development of the volunteer department. On April 27, 1984, a fire broke out at one of the SHC townhouse’s under construction. The condominium complex was a total loss and the fire department lost its first pumper in the fire.
Soon after the condo incident, a group of Islanders formed the Friends of the Volunteer Fire Department to help raise funds to support the fire department. Saint Patrick’s Day would never be the same.
When 1988 rolled around, the Upper Captiva Volunteer Fire Department hired the first paid Fire Chief, Andy Anderson. After years of training the volunteers and upgrading the equipment, the department applied for its first Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating survey. All of the hard work paid off. On September 28, 1989 the ISO approved the department with a 9/8 rating. Certificates of occupancy and insurance premiums became obtainable. Sadly, tragedy struck in April of 1990, when Chief Anderson was lost in a plane crash off our coast, along with San Carlos Fire Chief Carl Drews and his brother-in-law.
In 1991, an extensive search began to find a replacement Fire Chief and Chief Richard Pepper was hired as Chief of the District.
Funding the department remained a continuing problem. After years of work, the Florida Legislature enacted Chapter 90-397, Laws of Florida, which created what is now known as the Upper Captiva Fire Protection and Rescue Service District. Registered voters of the Island passed the local resolution and approved the creation of the District. The Transfer of Boards happened on January 5, 1991. The newly elected Commissioners were: Susie Scott, Jack Hunt, Louise Shaw, Grady Scott and Virginia King.
Construction for the fire station started on September 18, 1995 with a ground breaking ceremony attended by the Islanders. Nine months later on June 17, 1996, the station was in service.
During the years 1996 – 2003, the District implemented various improvements with additional equipment, additional staffing, and improved training. As part of increasing staffing, Assistant Chief Kinniry was hired in 2001. In 2003, the District received its second periodic review from ISO. All of the tax funding for additional staffing and equipment and hard work paid off when the ISO approved the department with a Public Protection Class (PPC) 7/9x rating.
The District, both staff and islanders, were severely tested on August 13, 2004 when Hurricane Charley made landfall in Florida, with a direct hit on North Captiva Island. At its peak intensity, Charley was a Category 5 storm with winds reaching 150+ mph. There was extensive damage throughout the entire island and the island was virtually shut down until it could be made safe to begin rebuilding. With the help of islanders, the National Guard and local construction crews, the roads were cleared. The August heat and being without power for 47 days further complicated efforts. For weeks after the Hurricane the District’s station became the center of activities on the island. Many of the residents were served warm, cooked meals there as there was no electrical power available on island for some seven weeks. The Department's power generator allowed workers and residents to charge their carts and cell telephones. The District was the main contact for Lee County, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other aid agencies for most islanders.
In 2012, after many years of planning, the Fire Commissioners proposed a $970,000 referendum for a special assessment to build a fire station addition and renovate the existing building, doubling the size of the existing building. The voters rejected that referendum on August 14, 2012.
2013 was a year with many setbacks, with our first major fire totally destroying two homes on February 17th. Our island residents stepped up and donated over $23,000 to purchase equipment lost in the fire, as well as modernizing personal protective gear that was sorely needed. And in September, the ISO conducted their third periodic review of the District and, although our score would support a PPC rating of 4, it could not be provided, due to changes in Florida and ISO minimum staffing standards requiring at least 4 certified firefighters initially responding to a fire alarm. With the new standard, the District would fall to a PPC rating of 10 (the same as no fire department), if we couldn’t find funding to hire an additional two firefighters for every shift. ISO gave the District one year to resolve the staffing shortfall, before making their rating official.
In 2014, the Board approved Chief Pepper’s request for a fire services special assessment referendum for $447,400 annually to fund two additional part-time firefighters. The voters approved the Fire Services Special Assessment for up to 10 years on July 8, 2014. After that approval, Chief Pepper worked with Lee County’s Emergency Medical Services Medical Director and received support to implement an Advanced Life Support (ALS) program on North Captiva, if funding for credentialed paramedics and required supplies and equipment could be obtained. With those approvals, the Fire Commissioners approved a proposal to hire sufficient part-time firefighter/paramedics to allow scheduling of at least one firefighter/paramedic on each shift, funded by the new Fire Services special assessment. Chief Pepper then coordinated with the Friends of the Fire Department for a fund raising campaign that ultimately raised over $60,000.
With the approved Special Fire Services Assessment effective on October 1, 2014, the Fire Commissioners approved the hiring of 35+ part-time firefighter/paramedics and firefighter/EMTs. With that new funding, plus existing Ad Valorem tax revenues, funding was assured for up to 4 credentialed firefighters for each shift. Since that additional staffing met the new Florida/ISO minimum staffing standards, the District notified ISO of the approved referendum and the hiring of additional part-time firefighters. On January 26, 2015, the ISO provided the District our vastly improved PPC rating of 4/4x, effective on May 1, 2015.
After receipt of the necessary supplies and equipment and completing the credentialing of our new firefighter/paramedics, the District became certified to provide ALS services on North Captiva Island on June 1, 2015.
Chief Robert Kinniry officially became the new Fire Chief on February 20, 2016, replacing Chief Pepper, after his retirement as full-time Fire Chief.
Today, the fire station still stands as a simple reminder to residents and visitors that the unexpected can and will happen without any warning. Now into our twenty-sixth year as a District and forty-fifth year overall, your Fire Commissioners, Staff and Volunteers continue to serve our community with pride. Public safety, awareness and education will continue to be our goals. We strive to improve our services to all who call Upper Captiva home.
Yours in Public Safety,
Robert Kinniry Fire Chief February 20, 2016 to present