Editor’s Note: This is the 13th in a series of 24 articles published by The Apopka Voice in 2017 that were among the most noteworthy. We will post all of them from December 26th and December 31st. Then on Monday, January 1st we will poll our readers and let them decide which is Apopka's biggest story of 2017.
First published September 12th, 2017
Hurricane Irma is in our rearview mirror. After spending a week in our thoughts and actions... and then a couple of days right in our faces... it moved north to wreak havoc elsewhere, and then ended. But while it was here, and even after its departure, the Apopka Police Department kept the city safe, secure, and stable.
Thousands of residents in Apopka were/are without power. Traffic lights went out. Apopka High School and Apopka Memorial Middle School housed evacuees to near-capacity. We bought all of the gas, bread, water and plywood in town. The local hotels were full. We dealt with biblical proportions of rain, hurricane-force wind gusts, downed trees and a 24-hour curfew. We were pummelled, battered, beaten, but not defeated.
As a community, we survived Irma.
Deputy Chief Randall Fernandez gave the overall assessment of the APD's battle with Irma.
"There have been about 14 officers on patrol working 12-hour day shifts and another 14 working 12-hour night shifts since Sunday morning at 6 AM. We will continue with this schedule until the majority of the city's utilities are restored and the roads are cleared. These officers are aggressively patrolling businesses and residences to ensure no criminal element is taking advantage of our community during this time, and there is a zero tolerance on such activity."
For the three day period beginning Saturday, and going through Monday night the following activity occurred:
The APD responded to 641 calls for service with a total of 44 reports taken. There were a total of nine arrests including one warrant arrest, five burglaries were reported, and four vehicle crashes. Six citations were issued and three trespass warnings.
Two of the arrests were charged also with an enhanced penalty for committing crimes during a State of Emergency.
The emergency communications center double staffed as of Sunday morning and went to 12-hour shifts to ensure the center was responsive prior, during, and after the storm, according to Fernandez. Friday and Saturday, prior to the storm, APD detectives and fire personnel were proactive in contacting those living in mobile home parks and other such vulnerable persons within the community to encourage they seek shelter during the storm. Most took advantage of the shelter opportunity or relocated with family and friends. On Saturday, 10 school resource officers and detectives started 12-hour shifts and were assigned to security at each of the two Orange County shelters within the Apopka community (3/day and 2/night at Apopka High school and 3/day and 2/night at Apopka Middle school). These shelters were closed around 10 pm on Monday night.
Monday, after the worst of the storm, police detectives, public services personnel, and fire department personnel worked as strike teams to clear the debris from blocked roads to ensure critical access to the community was available to emergency personnel.
And it was during the post-hurricane period that Fernandez noticed a bond forming in Apopka that extended beyond the APD.
"I saw this community come together to help one another. Teams of citizens were clearing debris from each other's homes and neighborhoods. I saw the Apopka family work together. Just like a family, sometimes we pick at each other, but when the chips are down, you don't mess with family. This is a community in which I am happy to call home and one in which we can all be proud. I can comfortably say we have the finest emergency service and support personnel around. Even though all our personnel was impacted by the storm, just as the rest of the community was, our police officers, dispatchers, firefighters, and public services personnel left their homes and families to selflessly serve this community. When you get an opportunity, thank them. Most were away from their homes and at their assignments for at least 36 to 48 hours on work/rest schedules not knowing the danger their loved ones or property was in. Some personnel worked longer. They truly give all of themselves for Apopka."
"I thought they did well. They responded to calls for service until the wind and rain got too severe and then we pulled them off the streets. It was admirable given the conditions. The dedicated men and women of the Apopka Police Department worked hard to ensure our community was safe. I am proud of their dedication and hard work. Just as they do every day, they left their families to protect us under some very difficult conditions and they did a great job."