[Tallahassee, Fla] On the eve of Florida Tourism Day 2019, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association (FRLA) partnered with the Asian-American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) to honor Hometown Heroes. Held at Bricks & Brass, this event honored the first responders who went above and beyond the call of duty in the wake of Hurricane Michael. FRLA collected nominations from every police department, fire department, sheriff’s office, emergency response office and state law enforcement agency in the impacted area. Each agency was allowed to submit the name and story of one individual whose response exemplified the spirit of a Hometown Hero. With 200 people in attendance, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis honored these six men and women:
Deputy Fire Chief Ray Morgan
Panama City Beach Fire Department
After only nine months as a Deputy Fire Chief, Ray Morgan was in charge of Panama City Beach Fire Department’s operations section in response to Hurricane Michael. For three days after the record-setting storm made landfall, Deputy Chief Morgan coordinated rescue efforts and missions in surrounding municipalities while not knowing the fate of his own home and family. Each mission to coordinate supplies and task forces had to be completed face-to-face as radio and telephonic communications had been completely disrupted. Deputy Chief truly put his community first
Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office
A twenty-year employee of the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office, Tashonda Whaley is the county’s Emergency Management Coordinator. During and after Hurricane Michael, Ms. Whaley managed the EOC overseeing all missions. She organized response efforts, coordinating with local, state, and federal agencies to ensure Gadsden County residents received much-needed support and resources. Additionally, she organized efforts between local faith-based organizations, community volunteers, and the Florida National Guard to establish food and water distribution points throughout the county, providing thousands of powerless, waterless citizens with food in the first 48 hours after the storm.
Liberty County Emergency Management Services
Like many in North Florida’s rural counties, Al Bryant with Liberty County Emergency Management Services used his own personal equipment to help neighbors and others in his community after Hurricane Michael. But Mr. Bryant worked day in and day out, giving his time and talents alongside county crews, city crews, and residents to clear roads and remove debris so that others could get to desperately needed aid and supplies. His unselfish acts and spirit of service truly exemplify the spirit of a hometown hero.
Accreditation Manager Casey Osborne
Panama City Police Department
As a non-essential employee of the Panama City Police Department, Accreditation Manager Casey Osborne was free to take time off or even leave town for Hurricane Michael. Instead, he choose to stay and work to serve others in the wake of the devastating storm. He spent countless hours working to ensure employees and volunteers at PCPD had three hot meals each day. Using two portable griddles and a portable two-burner stove, Mr. Osborne planned meals based on the limited supplies he was able to requisition from local businesses and suppliers. His understanding of the importance of a hot meal and its impact on morale will never be forgotten.
Police Chief James Baggett
Altha Police Department
Sanitation worker. Meter reader. Mechanic. Bookkeeper. Crossing guard. These are just a few of the additional jobs Altha Police Chief James Baggett has picked up since Hurricane Michael blew through the small Calhoun County town. Whether he was running a chainsaw or delivering gas, Chief Baggett committed himself to service and his town in a way that is the true embodiment of a hometown hero. Now, five months later, he is continuing to serve Altha and his neighbors in countless, selfless ways.
During Hurricane Michael, Walmart’s Senior Manager for Global Security Joshua Allen was embedded in Florida’s Emergency Operations Center, serving as a key member of ESF 18. Josh quickly became the most sought-out person in the ESF 18 office. He facilitated deliveries of truckloads of ice and donations of massive amounts of clothing and necessary supplies like diapers. He arranged to open stores in order to provide needed food and supplies to first responders. If there was a need, Josh exercised every effort to answer that need completely and efficiently. He was tireless.
Each winner was honored with a Hometown Hero plaque and $500. Upon hearing the stories of these heroes, FRLA member Tony Brown with ALSCO offered to match the award, giving each winner a total of $1,000.
For more information about the Tallahassee Chapter of FRLA, please visit the chapter page here.