The Village of Estero, located on Florida’s Gulf Coast in Lee County, was once an area rich in growing citrus crops. Now it has transformed into a vibrant and beautiful community of year-round residents and “snowbirds” flocking to the south to escape the harsh winter months. Nestled between Ft. Myers to the north and Naples to the south, Estero really didn’t see massive growth until the late 1970s into the 1980s. Then Interstate 75 was completed, and the Southwest Florida International Airport opened, bringing more people into the area. Originally, Lee County contracted fire protection to the area from Ft. Myers which is almost 20 miles away. In 1964, Estero Precinct 12 Volunteer Fire Company 1 was set up and raised money all through donations to provide fire protection; the department had no authority to tax residents for equipment or apparatus. In 1976, the State of Florida divided Lee County into Fire Districts, and Estero Fire Protection & Rescue Services was established and covers a 56-square-mile slice of the southern portion of the county.
In the early 1980s the department hired a paid chief and then three paid firefighters in 1985. By the mid 1990s, the department had 11 full-time firefighters, a training officer, and chief. Unfortunately, growth continued in the county, but Estero was not growing as fast as other areas. In light of this, a fire chief thought that contracting through a private firm to provide services and salary would be the answer to financial issues in the county. In a move not commonly occurring in the fire service but not unheard of, upon returning from a training exercise, the members of the department found out their services were no longer needed. A private firm (Wackenhut) was hired to provide protection to the area. Unfortunately, a firefighter from that company was killed at a brush fire, the fire chief was caught stealing picket signs, and board members resigned because they hadn’t followed Florida laws; this was a low point in the history of this department. However, the department rebounded and hired all members released and, in 1998, was renamed Estero Fire Rescue. Today the department is full of robust chiefs, officers, and firefighters who take training, tool complement, and apparatus seriously and provide excellent protection to the citizens and visitors in the district.
Estero Fire Rescue currently operates out of four stations with two Stuphen engines, two 75-foot Stuphen quints, two rescues (Suburban’s staffed with two firefighters), three brush fire units, one 23-foot fire boat, one 3,000 gallon tender, an air and light mobile trailer, and one Honda side-by-side utility vehicle. The department also has three apparatus used as reserves: one engine, a rear mounted tower ladder ,and one quint. Station 43 is known as the Three Oaks Station as it sits on Three Oaks Parkway, as does the administrative building and staff of Estero Fire Rescue. It houses Engine 43 which is a 2013 Sutphen Monarch rescue-pumper and currently hosts a Lee County Paramedic Unit.
Engine 43 is set up like a rescue-pumper, which carries a cache of rescue tools and the department’s USAR equipment and components. The unit is powered by a Cummins engine and has an Allison transmission and Hale Qmax pump. It has a raised roof with a light tower mounted on it and protected by a bar cage so it isn’t struck by any tree limbs. The roof is painted black as well as the upper portion of the rescue body. An American flag adorns the upper section of the cab, while the body has a commemorative 50th anniversary emblem and gold leaf “Estero Fire Rescue” signage. The lower section of the apparatus is painted white and has reflective striping running along the bottom of the rig in a gold, black, and red design in varying patterns. On the front cab doors “Estero Fire Rescue” is displayed, while the crew cab doors boast the unit’s company logo on them. On the side rear compartment doors there is a larger 43 on top of the reflective stripe, and on forward body doors is the EMS emblem. The front bumper and the rear of the apparatus have safety chevron designs with a large 43 on the rear roll-up door and a smaller one near the front bell on the rig. The “Midtown” designation is just below the front windshield.
The rig has a few different types of compartment styles: roll-up compartment doors are present in two areas. The apparatus pump panel is located behind a roll-up compartment door on the engineer’s side, and the rear step compartment holds the department’s new Hurst eDRAULIC tools. Coffin compartments are located on the upper section of the rescue body; access is via a folding ladder on the back step. These large compartments carry long bracing, shoring, cribbing, and a Little Giant Ladder. The remainder of the rig has standard compartments with hinged compartment doors.
Located just behind the pump panel is a compartment that has an area for an array of tools and appliance storage. There are actually six different shelves and storage nooks inside this compartment. In addition, the walls of the compartment and doors are used for secure storage of equipment. When opening the door, firefighters will find two long wooden broom handles, a flat “D” handle shovel and a foam pick up tube secured to the left inner door panel. Starting on the top left-hand side of the compartment on the upper shelf are a nozzle, foam eductor, two gated wyes, an extra steamer ca,p and a threaded female coupling to a Storz fitting. On the rear wall in this area is a foam nozzle; on the left side wall are the controls for the light tower and a portable Night Stick light. Mounted in a holding bracket on the right-side wall is an Akron Revel portable light. On the middle shelf, there is a host of hose fittings and adapters, a few nozzle tips, mallet, and hydrant and spanner wrenches. On the left side wall of this shelf, a hose roller and larger spanner wrenches are mounted to the wall. On the lowest portion of the compartment are three extinguishers: CO2, dry chemical, and pressurized water can. Squeezed into the area to the left of the extinguishers are a few broom heads. On the opposite side of the compartment, there are also three shelving units available to store material. The upper shelf has a donut roll or “pony roll” of hose, a tool box with assorted small hand tools, a K-Tool, a roll of canvas garden hose, squeegee heads, and a small hand broom. On the middle shelf there is an additional donut roll used by the pump operator and a container of foam and foam wrench. The area below this shelf stores a cooler with bottles of water in it for recuperation and hydration needs of the members after working at an incident.
Engine Company 43 members are proud of their apparatus and the equipment carried on it. Not only does it allow them to handle fires and vehicle extrications, but also any unusual rescue or natural disaster that might strike this section of the beautiful Gulf Coast.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 31-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the author of “Compartment Corner” on www.fireapparatus.com. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC International Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.