A Winter Parker was among several brave Central Florida firefighters and paramedics who received a hero’s welcome Tuesday, Sept. 5. They had just returned from Texas, where they helped those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
The team of local firefighters and paramedics — known as the Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 4 — was composed of special operations personnel from the Seminole County Fire Department, Orange County Fire Rescue, the Orlando Fire Department, Winter Park Fire-Rescue and the Clermont Fire Department.
The team traveled to Texas on a 10-day mission and rescued 900 people from flooded homes and buildings. The team — led by Seminole County Assistant Chief Michael Johansmeyer — was headed to Houston but stopped in Beaumont, where they and a task force from Tampa provided search-and-rescue services in the area.
The task force was called to stay in Beaumont and continue helping there for the rest of their mission. Members worked alongside the U.S. Marines and Army Reserve.
Winter Park firefighter/paramedic Richard Ribar operated a boat for the task force during his deployment.
He returned to Central Florida tired and aching — but also knowing he made a difference.
“We worked through a tropical storm,” Ribar said. “We were in boats with the wind and the lightning and the rain, and we were going door-to-door. The first day, there was a foot of water in someone’s home. Eventually, we had to shut down operations — it was getting too dangerous.
“We go home and come out at six o’clock in the morning, and now, the water is halfway up people’s windows,” he said. “We work all day trying to get people out — some people refusing to go. We had to shut down at night, and then the third day they said it’s mandatory — you are taking everybody. We go back in, and now water is at the roof level. We’re taking people out of second story windows and off of roofs. Every day — for the first three or four days — it got worse.”
Ribar has been with the Winter Park Fire-Rescue Department for almost 20 years and has received training in swift water, task force leadership and rescue for the past 12 years. When the call for volunteers came, Ribar knew he was ready.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do was serve people and run emergencies,” Ribar said. “That’s all I’ve ever known since I was a kid. “Winter Park has sponsored me for the last 12 years. This was my first deployment, and for 12 years, they’ve allowed me to go to every training (session) and get every certification that was offered. That’s paid off in this case. … I won’t say I was lucky, because I’ve worked very hard to do this, but it was years in the making.”
Ribar’s family held onto that same sentiment while he was away, understanding that while they initially feared for his safety, they also knew he was prepared.
“He’s selfless,” said Ribar’s son, Michael. “No matter what he does, he’s always thinking of others before himself. We’re very proud of what he does for other people.”
Tuesday’s celebration included a massive American flag that was hung over 36th Street between two fire truck ladders. Firefighters arrived at the USAR Offices and Training Facility to a crowd of thankful friends, co-workers and family members.
“I’m proud that the Orlando Fire Department and all of our agencies who provided much needed relief,” Mayor Buddy Dyer said. “It’s great when we figure out how to work with other entities to do good for other people. … Thank you from the bottom of my heart and from the residents of the city of Orlando for your efforts on behalf of the citizens of Texas.”