Tampa Fire Museum gives back

On March 1, 1908, Tampa experienced the largest fire in its history. Cottages, factories and stores were burned down to ashes and two thousand people were left homeless.

The fire was discovered inside a boarding house in Ybor City. Before the volunteer firefighters came, many homes and businesses were already destroyed. The flames were extremely difficult to control.

“Everything was built out of wood,” said Joy Bunch, employee for the Tampa Fire Museum. “Back then trying to get it contained, they just couldn’t get ahead of it. When it was all said and done, it burned 55 acres and 17 city blocks.”

According to Bunch, city officials decided to rebuild everything destroyed by importing brick. This decision was also the reason why the Tampa Fire Museum is made out of brick.

Built in 1911, the museum was originally the headquarters for the Tampa Fire Department (TFD) until 1974.  Now the museum holds all the history of TFD and the Tampa Fire Rescue (TFR). Everyday visitors come in not only to learn about the history of both departments, but also to learn more about safety education and fire prevention. The museum is free of charge but donations are accepted and appreciated.

“We have an area for kids to play in,” said Scott Mays, a local firefighter. “We also have a couple of trucks and things like that for people to see. We also have a store where we sell memorabilia and other firefighter stuff and museum items as well.”

One part of the museum contains fire truck exhibits. One truck, nicknamed the “Little Mack” can still be used in a fire today if need be, but it’s mostly used for personal events such as parades and funerals. The truck was sold to TFD in 1949 for $13,884. It was last served in Firehouse Station Three.

Close by the fire trucks, one will see how the firefighters’ uniforms have changed over the years. During the 1920s and 1960s, firefighters wore less gear than the one’s today. You will see that in earlier decades, they wore a helmet, bunker pants, boots, quick-close fasteners and held a pick-headed axe. Now they’ve replaced the axe with a hose and added reflective strips, gloves, goggles, a face piece and more. According to the museum, the total amount of gear a firefighter wears adds another 75 pounds to their weight.

TFD originally consisted of volunteer firemen. The first volunteer company was created in 1885 and 10 years later the department became a paid company.

“The city budget was $18,000,” said Bunch. Bunch has been working for the museum ever since her son, Matt Bunch, passed away due to a rare cancer. He was a firefighter that was stationed across the street from the museum. He served the community for nearly 6 years.

“Tampa Fire Rescue supported him and our family,” she said. “While it was a very short battle, they were just tremendous to our family and still are. I started volunteering here and then they offered me a position.”

There is a room where visitors can pay their respects to the local firefighters that have passed away. Near the memorial room there is also an exhibit in honor of the firefighters that passed away saving lives on 9/11.

The museum also welcomes guests to host special events such as birthday parties, retirement functions and weddings.

“We do all types of events here at the museum,” said Mays. Before becoming a firefighter, Mays worked for the museum and stopped by occasionally to help out when needed. “We also do community things when we just have folks come in from the street for tours.”

Educating the community on fire safety is one of the goals of the museum. They wish to educate as many people as they can, especially children. This is one of the reasons why there is no charge to enter.

“We try to give fire prevention, what to do in a fire, things like that…where we don’t want to charge people for that information,” said Mays. “We want people to be able to get that information without having to pay for it because we feel that it is necessary and extremely important that people understand what to do during a fire.”

The museum has been designated a “local historical landmark” by the City of Tampa Architectural Review Historic Designation Division. You can visit on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

“Besides the stop, drop and roll…get out and stay out,” said Mays. He says that is the best tip he can give to people who may not know what else to do in case of a fire. “If there is something left in there, let the firefighters know.”

For more information visit www.tampafirefightersmuseum.org

Camp Kesem helps kids impacted by cancer

Camp Kesem at Florida State University is gearing up for its annual Make the Magic event, which benefits the kids at the camp.

According to the nonprofit’s mission statement, it is a “nationwide community, driven by passionate college student leaders, that supports children through and beyond their parent’s cancer.”

The organization has over 3,000 student leaders at over one hundred colleges across the U.S. The camp reached 6,000 kids in 2016 alone, 65 of which came from the chapter at FSU.

Make the Magic – a fundraiser geared toward making the camp free – will include a cocktail hour, a formal dinner and speeches from leaders at all levels of the organization. Guests will be able to connect with camp counselors and participate in activities related to the camp.

Last year’s Make the Magic event raised over $6,000. With more time and resources dedicated to advertising and marketing, the organization has plans to nearly double that amount this year.

“Last year was definitely a successful fundraiser but we know we can do better,” said Zack Tregoe, Camp Kesem’s FSU branch co-director. “With repeat donors and the growth of Kesem we want to reach a donation goal of $11,000.”

Zack Tregoe, originally from Tampa, is a co-director for Camp Kesem at FSU. Photo/campkesem.org/fsu

Proceeds from each event go straight to the campers themselves, ensuring that every child who attends the camp is doing so for free. Each counselor must raise at least $500, which is then combined.

The camp itself is six days and five nights that include activities from sports to arts and crafts. The camp provides an escape for children dealing with the impacts of cancer on their family.

The camp encourages open dialogue through the Empowerment Ceremony. At the ceremony, campers are encouraged to talk about why they are there. Campers all share that one or both of their parents have been affected by cancer to some degree.

This includes parents who are actively battling cancer, are a cancer survivor or have lost their battle. This ceremony works to bring campers together.

“My favorite event at the camp is Wow-Pow-Chow, something we do every night,” Tregoe says.

Wow-Pow-Chow (WPC) is a part of Cabin Chat, a large group discussion focused on that specific day. The ‘wow’ is for the best part of the day, the ‘pow’ is for the worst part of the day and the ‘chow’ is for the best food of the day.

“I love the way WPC is able to give every camper a voice, but it also helps us in bettering the camp for the future,” Tregoe said. “When feedback from a certain activity is positive, we know to emphasize it the next year. If the feedback is just so-so, we either replace it or ask our campers how to improve it.”

Make the Magic will take place March 4, 2017. Those looking to attend will be able to purchase tickets for $50 at campkesem.org/fsu.

Help from local hurricane relief group extends to Puerto Rico

TAMPA— Members of the community have united to form Decentralized Response, a grassroots response coalition, in the wake of the environmental and economic devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Decentralized Response previously operated under the title Irma Decentralized Response. The name was changed when the group’s relief effort extended beyond hurricane Irma.

Volunteers have supplies sent to a three-bedroom house in Tampa that they call the hub.  They store goods there and distribute them statewide.  The group is even planning a relief trip to Puerto Rico.

Pictured left is one of the rooms in the response hub. The whole house holds a variety of relief supplies that volunteers distribute in the hurricane relief packs. Photo credit: Decentralized Response Facebook Page

Dezeray Lyn, a woman who assisted in the formation of the response group, discussed the group’s main mission, where they’ve been and where they’re going.

“We are here to feed and supply anyone in the community who needs it,” Lyn said. “We also traveled to Apopka, Immokalee and the Keys to give the community there assistance.”

Lyn is also a co-founder of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief.  According to the Facebook page, MADR is a grassroots network with a mission to provide disaster relief based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid and autonomous direct action.

Members of MADR and other activists began mobilizing, as the threat of Irma loomed, to help those in need before, during and after the storm. They formed distribution teams to take hurricane packs containing food, water and hygiene products to refugee families days before Irma hit. The group was a saving grace for those trapped in the rain and high winds.

“We received a call to our relief line from someone trapped in the storm,” Lyn said.  “They were stuck on the side of the interstate, and the police said the winds were too high to send anyone to help them, so we sent our people to pick them up.”

Mostly, the poorer communities were without water and power for extended amounts of time after Irma passed. Decentralized Response provided those neighborhoods in need with water, food and even generators, in some cases.

Dezeray Lyn is featured to the left helping with the delivery of goods to citizens in the Florida Keys. Photo credit: Justin Garcia

Lyn and activists also traveled to Apopka and Immokalee to provide relief. Apopka residents found themselves without power for many days in their small, farming community. It was loosely estimated that 70 percent of the citrus crop was lost during the storm.

Immokalee was hit harder by Irma than many other parts of Florida. More help was needed, so the Coalition of Immokalee Workers worked hard to receive and distribute goods. The town of migrant farmers didn’t have power for weeks and lost a major portion of their crops. Some even lost their homes.

Relief efforts continue.  However, the aid priority of Puerto Rico and other islands has made itself apparent.  The Decentralized Response crew is gearing up to make a trip to the devastated island.

“We are leaving on a weeklong trip to Puerto Rico on October 12,” Lyn said.

Their goal is to help people in need after hurricane Maria. They will distribute relief goods that are being collected in a shipping container before the trip. It should be there when they arrive.

This is a donation flier from Decentralized Response that lists the products needed to be collected and distributed to the victims of the hurricanes. Photo credit: Decentralized Response Facebook Page

Members of Decentralized Response feel that state efforts are not enough considering the destruction in Puerto Rico.

“We must demand that they do more, but also help as a community however we can,” Lyn said.

 

 

 

Local shelter provides safe place for Tampa’s homeless

It’s a homeless shelter run by homeless people. Located on Florida Avenue in Hillsborough County, Homeless Helping Homeless houses dozens of people.

“We are 100 percent donation based, so that limits the amount people we can help,” said marketing and social media coordinator Kristen Ellis. “We’re limited in the things we can do.”

The organization is looking to expand their outreach to at least 36 more beds within the year. Currently, they have room for 18 beds in the main office, and rooms for more people in need at their women’s facility right down the street.

“We don’t take grants because we serve a niche of people that don’t qualify for those grants,” Ellis said.

If they take federal assistance, they would have to drug test their clients and make them meet certain rules. Ellis wants people to know that is not Homeless Helping Homeless’s calling.

“These people have their own journey, though it may be why they’re in this situation. We believe everyone has the right to a safe place to sleep,” Ellis said.

Current client and former heroin addict Celeste Dogmi is a testament to this. Dogmi has been sober for over a year and says it’s because of the homeless shelter.

“I was thrown out of rehab with no place to go,” Dogmi said. “It’s helping me with sober living, food, shelter and stability.”

The organization’s intention is not to change an addict’s lifestyle, but to help in whatever way a client wants them to. But if their help leads to someone getting clean, they consider that a win.