Upon the heels of celebrating their 20 years of cityhood and watching the horrors of Hurricane Harvey, islanders found themselves bracing for Irma. Marco Strong, Marco Proud is the sentiment of the Marco Island community as they came together during Hurricane Irma and her aftermath. The community raced into action preparing for the unpredictable monster heading their way. Long-time resident, Captain Ron Hagerman and Matthew Melican used their recent experience rescuing and volunteering in Houston to prepare and aid their Marco neighbors.
“I was in Texas doing rescues for Hurricane Harvey when I had to leave to prep for this one. I took what I learned there and improved on it with the best group of men and women. I knew too many were going to stay on the island so we prepared in advance for the worst,” Hagerman said. Thus, the birth of the Marco Patriots: a group of volunteer civilians who banded together in time of great need to help the citizens of Marco Island.
“The first order of business was getting everyone on the Zello app to gather as much data as possible. Gathering all this information helped get people prepared, insure they weren’t scared, and they were safe,” explained Erin Mia Milchman. “We used our newly created Zello channel and our Marco Patriots Facebook group to help everyone share information…and they shared and shared!”
Prior to the storm hitting, the Marco Patriots’ database contained 198 registered addresses accounting for 458 residents. The Zello channel kept residents on the island and off in constant contact with real-time updates throughout Irma’s impact.
Within 24 hours of Irma hitting the island, 110 properties and the safety of 278 residents were checked. By September 12th upon insuring their members’ safety, the focus shifted to organizing supplies for the residents of Everglades City and Chokoloskee. Due to their location in the Everglades and flooding in the area and surrounding cities, supplies such as food, water, diapers, and gas were in short supply. Despite still needing many of these items themselves, Marco Island residents once again banded together to help their fellow men and women. Donations of water arrived within minutes of the call for help and gas was collected by siphoning from watercraft not being used. Capt. Ron worked with the Marco Police Department to obtain a curfew exemption and made two separate trips to Chokoloskee, bringing supplies to those in need.
“When a man is willing to eat an MRE [Meal: Ready-to-Eat] you know he needs food. I was compelled to go back a second time with more supplies as soon as possible,” Hagerman said.
Special thanks to the Marco Patriots team: Capt Ron Hagerman, Matthew Melican, Mark Melican, Erin Mia Milchman, Joey Waves, Mike Hinton, Steve Camposano, Greg Pascale, Tony “Smudge” Smith, Rose Kriberscheck, Kaley Whitworth, April Hagerman, Jennifer Rumin, Kate Weaver Younger, and Hector Fernandez.
At its peak, the Zello channel held over 300 members and the Facebook page over 7,000. The Marco Patriots Facebook page continues to share information on the Irma recovery effort, information regarding property damage, power restoration, available services, and gathering necessities and donations.