Pasco County business owner raising money to purchase John Boats for Firefighters

Posted at 6:57 PM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-09 18:57:20-04

"When we came down here the water was right about here," said Rich Solkin.

Walking through streets once covered in more than four feet of water, Pasco resident and business owner Rich Solkin is worried about the next time.

"One home owner said to me I've been here 25 years, I've survived a hundred floods, she said I'm not leaving. That same lady four hours later couldn't get her bag quick enough to get in the boat we had and get out of here," said Solkin.

While he and other volunteers jumped in their own boats to evacuate stranded neighbors, he found out why Pasco County fire rescue crews were stalled on dry land. 

Turns out, of the 28 county fire stations, none had a boat at their disposal. The county currently uses shared assets by borrowing boats from the County Sheriffs department and Florida Fish and Wildlife.  

"There's no reason why the six fire houses along the coast in Pasco don't have john boats," said Solkin.

"When there's flooding, we need to get people out and its hard for us not having access to boats," said Pasco Fire Rescue Division Chief Shawn Whitehead.

But Whitehead says there's no simple solution. Budgets are tight and boats tend to sink on the list of priorities.

"It's no secret that we have a 300 million dollar storm water issue that we have to find a way to pay for, and do we pay for storm water improvements so we don't have flooding or do we pay for fire boats that we can use when we do have flooding," said Whitehead.

Solkin says he doesn't think firefighters should have to make that decision.

He's set up a GoFundMe account and is planning a series of fundraisers at his restaurant Kickin Wingz, with the hopes of purchasing the boats for the county.

"As far as I'm concerned its a top priority, they're not going to use them just for a flood, its coming up now because of a flood," said Solkin. "Having these boats is going to save someone's life, and you cant put a price on a human life."

If you would like to donate to help purchase the John Boats for the firefighters please visit the GoFundMe page.