LAKE PLACID — If you happened to be out and about at 4 a.m. on Sunday, February 25th, you might have wanted to call 911 to report smoke coming from the Placid Lakes Firehouse. That’s until you noticed that it was actually all the volunteer firefighters barbecuing beef and pork roasts in preparation for their 34th annual BBQ fundraiser.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Placid Lakes, it’s a laid-back community of about 2000 homes that lies three miles southwest of the Town of Lake Placid. There’s one convenience store, a town hall, a park on Lake June, a golf course, two restaurants, three churches, zero traffic lights and of course, a fire station. That’s about all anyone really needs.
Well, today the community got to drive through that fire station to support their fire fighters, who are all volunteers. The fire bay was set up as a drive-through, where you had your choice of BBQ beef or pork sandwiches, accompanied with baked beans, potato salad and a freshly made cookie. Kids in the car received a toy, and dogs got a treat too.
The Placid Lakes Volunteer Fire Department is just one of several such emergency centers scattered about Highlands County. Placid Lakes Fire Chief Mark Fortier and his staff of 13 volunteer firemen are trained to respond to all types of situations in and around Placid Lakes. Lt. Jeff Hanks described it best. He said, “We get into it! We do it!.” They average between 150 to 200 call outs a year. Recently, they had to extricate a victim from a Mustang involved in a traffic crash on Highway 70. Many times, they’re fighting hot brush fires.
They cover about 90 square miles, stretching all the way to the Desoto County line. In addition, under a mutual aid agreement, they could find themselves helping neighboring counties as well.
Highlands County is always looking for more volunteers. So, if as a kid, you told everyone you wanted to be a fireman when you grow up, here’s your chance. All you have to do is complete the 240-hour, Firefighter 1, course at South Florida State College. It’s held in the evenings; because, most volunteers have full time jobs elsewhere. In Placid Lakes, there’s on-going training on Monday nights and occasional group activities outside the area.
Assistant Fire Chief Scott Hanks has been a volunteer for 17 years — his son Jeff, 14 years. Eric Conklin has been a firefighter for 16 years, while rookie Vincent Petruzzelli already has been there two years. Currently, there are no female firefighters in Placid Lakes; but, ladies are more than welcome to become part of the crew.
The annual BBQ dinner raises money for scholarships for EMT, Paramedic and Fire courses. The donations also help with incidental costs that are not covered by Highlands County. This year the firefighters, along with their wives and kids, produced almost 400 to-go dinners. A steady stream of hungry people drove through the fire bay for three hours straight to make the event a huge success. Thanks to all the volunteers who help keep us safe!