PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Punta Gorda alongside a variety of law enforcement officials at the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. The governor announced $2 million to be made available from the Florida Disaster Fund to help first responders and law enforcement get back on their feet from Hurricane Ian damage.
DeSantis said the state was continuing to make progress on recovery efforts. Then, he focused on how over the past couple of weeks, first responders have been “instrumental” in the effort, naming police, fire, and sheriff’s deputies as being in the field working to provide stability from the moment Hurricane Ian hit.
The governor announced that $2 million would be made available to help first responders “get back on their feet” with funding from the Florida Disaster Fund going to the charitable arms for the mentioned organizations. Each recipient organization, the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the Florida Fraternal Order of Police, and the Florida Professional Firefighters, would get $500,000 to distribute to their members in need.
“People do absolutely appreciate that but I think sometimes people don’t necessarily appreciate the fact that you may have a firefighter helping someone get out of their damaged home, that firefighter’s home may have been destroyed too,” DeSantis said. “Police officer’s out there helping you with something that you have had to deal with, but they may be suffering the same or more back at their place. It’s tough knowing that you have to go out there and serve the public, knowing you’ve got a lot of issues to deal with, but you don’t have the luxury to put yourself first, you have to put the people that you’re there to serve first.”
DeSantis said while the state had continued to provide relief, including raising over $40 million for the Florida Disaster Fund, but that the state would be using resources to help in ways that a “FEMA program may not.”
“We noticed how, we talked to the sheriffs, we talked to the people, we know that some deputies had homes flooded, damaged, some totally destroyed, and we wanted to be able to be helpful with that, so the Sheriff’s Association was working on raising money,” DeSantis said. “I know these other groups here, we have the Florida PBA, we gave the Florida Fraternal Order of Police, and we have the Florida Professional Firefighters Association, all have had members that have been impacted in one way or another. All of them have members whose homes were destroyed entirely.”
After saying so, the governor announced the $2 million for first responders, deputies, and police officers who were impacted by Hurricane Ian.
DeSantis said more assistance was coming, then presented the four checks to the organization leaders before law enforcement officers spoke. Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummel took the podium first, detailing how the law enforcement officers he’d been in command of during storm response had to be “forced” home rather than stay in the field helping the community. He thanked the governor for his assistance and support.
South Florida Police Benevolent Association President Steadman Stahl spoke next.
“When you’re out there working trying to do the job, keeping the evil away form good. You always had that in the back of your mind, what are you going to do about your house, your family, how are you going to get by?” Stahl said. “This token, governor, I can tell you it’s going to relieve a lot of that stress that the officers are going through out there. On behalf of all the officers out there, I want to say thank you. Like the sheriff said, it will get better. I was stunned at how quick the recovery got done.”
Comparing it to Hurricane Andrew, Stahl said he wished there had been a governor like DeSantis in 1992.
FOP president Steve Zona spoke next, thanking the governor and First Lady for their help, saying that while other FOP leaders across the country who “wonder what their governor or elected leader is going to do to them next,” he didn’t have to worry in Florida.
“No man or woman stands taller when they bend a knee to help somebody else, and governor, you and your wife are standing pretty tall right now,” Zona said.
DeSantis then introduced Rocco Salvatori, Vice President of Florida Professional Firefighters. He said his organization members work to fill voids of securing homes, but that hundreds of firefighters “had lost everything” and that there were firefighters “out there riding rigs right now” who had lost everything, thanking the governor and First Lady for their funding to help those impacted by the hurricane.
The governor said to stay tuned for “more announcements on these lines” and promised to help with more as new needs were discovered.
“You show me a place where people have responded with more resiliency than what we’ve seen here,” DeSantis said. “I think people have just been working hard. It’s not easy. You can say all hope is lost, or you can say you know what, ‘We’re going to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work.’ That’s the spirit I’m seeing. All throughout the state of Florida. And that makes a huge difference.”
He said there had been “monumental response at all levels of government,” and that communities were stepping up alongside those coming in from around the country to help with the recovery effort, before answering some questions.
The governor encouraged residents to apply for aid with temporary shelter, as well as getting what they need to recover. He said there were “massive numbers of trucks” going to Pine Island for electrical repair, though he noted it was not as damaged as what happened on Sanibel Island.
The surge of trucks, according to DeSantis, coming from Lee County Electric Cooperative, with assistance from Duke Energy Florida and Florida Power & Light were going faster now that access had been restored. He also mentioned Starlink Satellite access for internet that has been provided by SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, allowing people to apply for disaster assistance.
“A lot of the residents came up to me after we did the bridge, when we announced that, and basically said because of what the state of Florida did, we saved the island,” DeSantis said. “If we had not done that, the island would have basically died because they would have been weeks without enough services to be able to do it. I just think, at the end of the day when you’re doing these things, you have to have a sense of urgency.”
The governor said responders were working quickly because multiple recovery efforts targeting different needs “can be done in parallel” instead of waiting. He said even after 72 hours of search and rescue efforts, bridge repair work was ongoing, helping to reopen sooner. DeSantis said they would be back in the area and to hang on.
DeSantis will be holding another news conference from Cape Coral in the afternoon, alongside Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. and School District of Lee County Superintendent Dr. Christopher.