When Hurricane Irma ripped through Flagler County on the night of Sept. 10, Steven Ripley was hunkered down in his home on the north side of Palm Coast.
“I was just trying to make sure my roof stayed on,” he said. “When I got up the next morning, my fence was gone.”
Ripley, a Flagler Emergency Management volunteer, didn’t have time to worry about his torn up yard, however. He was ready to volunteer to help the community. He monitored the track of the passing storm, helped move emergency equipment, directed vehicles when traffic lights were out and helped rescue Flagler Beach residents who didn’t evacuate prior to the storm.
“I’ve always had a little bit of a volunteer spirit in me,” said Ripley, who was a volunteer firefighter in New Jersey prior to moving to Palm Coast in 2006. “I do something for this county every day. It’s neighbor helping neighbor.”
Ripley was one of the many volunteers who were recognized for their actions in response to the hurricane. Flagler Volunteer Services honored these individuals at its “End of Hurricane Season” dessert social on the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 29, at the Flagler County Fairgrounds’ Cattleman’s Hall.
Over 1,130 people volunteered to help with recovery, accumulating 11,565 hours of work, according to Flagler Volunteer Services Executive Director Suzy Gamblain.
She said volunteers helped transport people to the special needs shelter, worked within the shelter, manned the call centers, worked in the Emergency Operations Center and helped cleanup debris. Gamblain said the majority of hours were spent on cleanup.
“It’s very important to have volunteers because there are certain things government employees can’t do,” she said. “They’re not able to go into a person’s yard and cut up a tree that’s fallen or tarp a roof or do something like that. We fill those gaps.”
And despite the government’s response to the storm, Gamblain said the community would have a hard time functioning without the services of volunteers.
“When it comes to disasters, volunteers are the first boots on the ground and the last ones to leave,” she said. “Without volunteers, we can’t recover as a community.”