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Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Department celebrating 50 years

July 2, 2013
By MEGHAN McCOY (news@breezenewspapers.com) , Pine Island Eagle

The Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month with an open house at Station 1 after the Fourth of July parade.

The history of the Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District began at what is now Great Licks Ice Cream Shop in Matlacha in April 1960. According to Gary Parker, the first chief of Pine Island was Sunset Tackle Shop Garage owner Bill Champine. Chief Champine was joined by Parker, whose family started Parker's Hardware, where Subway is now.

For many years the fire department was operated out of Champine's garage in Matlacha. In 1963 Champine's stepson, Marty Slater, became the new fire chief.

Article Photos

This is what Pine Island Center looked like in 1959, a year before the Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District began in Matlacha in April 1960.

PHOTO PROVIDED

The state of Florida signed into law the codification Chapter 63-1558, House Bill 2294, creating a fire district in Matlacha and Pine Island during Chief Slater's tenure on July 10, 1963.

The fire board of 1963, Chairman Ted Smith, Slater, Parker, Truman Wheeler, Hubert Mascoe and Clarence Hansel, purchased a 1941 Cadillac hearse from Englehardt Funeral Home in Fort Myers as their first ambulance.

In the 1960s, the ambulance personnel had training from Red Cross or Boy Scouts.

Fact Box

Pine Island Fire Deputy Chief Joe Marzella said the fire district is in the process of establishing a plaque listing of all the members who have been influential as volunteers from the early days. He asks the community to contact the fire department with any names and dates they remember from the early days.

According to Parker, the ambulance service sold $3 tickets to finance the service. There was no charge for the ambulance if an individual prepaid for a ticket. Five dollar tickets were sold for fire protection.

The fire department held fund-raisers to help fund the services in the 1960s and early '70s, which included such events as chicken frys in Matlacha and turkey shoots at what is now the Nestings subdivision. Firework shows, as well as dances at the Matlacha Park, were also held to raise funds for the fire department.

Parker said Chief Slater guided the building of brush buggies from military surplus vehicles. The fire department worked with 18 surplus military vehicles, which were scavenged to put together a few brush buggies.

The dedication and design of mechanics Burford, Frank Clay and Dale Jedlick continued building brush buggies and fire engines for many years.

In celebration of the bicentennial in an attempt to raise money and awareness for the fire department, Parker said in 1976 members of the fire department with the assistance of the chairman of Lee County Commission Doug Taylor, decided to secede from Lee County.

The chief was also instrumental in recruiting individuals for the fire department.

Chief Slater began a "Firematics" competition team of young men of the island to recruit individuals to be firefighters, as well as give them a direction in life. Parker said the team competed throughout the state of Florida in timed events ranging from bucket brigades to ladder climbing.

According to Parker's memory, Clint Simmons, Larry Crosey, Ronnie Fields, Mike Zubal, Petey Meiers, Skip Reynolds, Pet Suto, Olin Thomas Sr., Olin Thomas Jr., Bobby Holloway, Tim Larrimore, Buckshot Thompson and Bruce Thompson were among the individuals on the team that competed statewide.

Some members of the fire department from the early building years included Wally Goodspeed, Art Rivard, Keith Bartlett, Tex Simmons, "Violin Case" Palumbo, Steve Poppell and Gary Grochowski.

Pine Island Fire Deputy Chief Joe Marzella said the fire district is in the process of establishing a plaque listing of all the members who have been influential as volunteers from the early days. He asks the community to contact the fire department with any names and dates they remember from the early days.

 
 

 

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