BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) – Many first responders were among those forced to evacuate their own homes due to the Chipola Complex wildfires.
Firefighters, deputies, dispatch workers and others are working around the clock on the front lines and behind the scenes.
Lt. Andy Husar with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office has been stationed at the wildfire command center since Friday.
He, like many others, lives in the evacuation zone for the Bertha Swamp Road fire.
“It’s been a tremendous amount of stress these last four days looking at the updated maps and watching it come closer and closer to my neighborhood each day,” Husar said.
When Husar heard about the evacuation order he called his wife, Tammy.
Sheriff’s deputies and people she had never even met came to help her evacuate and bring her six horses to safety.
“They were scared, the smoke was thick, they could smell the fire, you could see the flames from a distance,” Husar said.
Bay County Dispatch Supervisor Dixie Westbrook also lives in Bear Creek.
She was forced to evacuate as well. When she did, she left her family and went straight to work.
Both first responders said they are worried about their personal life, but have to push those fears aside.
“In the field that we work in it is one of those things that you have to give it your all and you have to be all hands on deck all the time,” Westbrook said. “Plus the job kind of helps you learn to push things to the side.”
Husar said his priority right now is his mission.
“I don’t have that much time to dedicate to worrying about my house because we have so many events going on both sides of the county we are worried about right now,” Husar said.
Tammy Tindle-Husar has been staying at the Holiday Inn in Panama City. She said it’s been a long few days, but knows they have to put their all into this fight.
“Since I am prior law enforcement I totally understand it,” Husar said. “His duty is to do his job. I know I am first in his heart, but his duty is to the people of Bay County and his job.”
Dozens of other first responders are in the same situation.
Husar said Bay County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Ray Hottinger is their neighbor and is stationed on the frontlines in Bear Creek.
“So he is not only protecting the county, he is protecting our neighborhood and he is protecting his own house,” Husar said. “I’m in constant contact with him also because he has a front line of what is going on in that neighborhood.”
Tindle-Husar said she helped out in dispatch over the last few days and heard some very touching moments.
“One of the dispatchers was talking to me,” Tindle-Husar said. “The house two down from his was on fire and he was sitting there taking calls and directing deputies. He never even asked to leave to go home to check on his own home and his own family.”
If you would like to donate items for those affected by the wildfires, you can drop them off at the Bay County Fairgrounds.