Local firefighters go above and beyond the call of duty

BLUE MOUNTAIN BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - When it comes to response time for first responders, finding a location quickly could be the difference between life and death.

Courtesy: SWFD

"The idea that nobody would be able to find you in 911 came is just terrifying. It really is," said Josette Rhodes who has lived in The Pines of Blue Mountain neighborhood for 7 years.

When you pull into the Pines of Blue Mountain Beach neighborhood, you may notice the lack of visible street signs.

"They're short, hard to read and not at every single road. So when you go in there it's hard to give directions, it's hard to really know where you're going," said Rhodes.

That made it difficult at times for emergency responders to navigate their way around when they get a call for help.

"In this case, I believe these are private [roads]. But then there was discussion and debate as to who's responsibility is was for the signs," said South Walton Fire District Chief, Richard Talbert.

So after years of answering emergency calls in Rhodes's neighborhood, the local fire district's firefighters took matters into its own hands to make a difference in the community.

"This particular neighborhood we've had a couple of home fires, we've had medical calls in this particular neighborhood and the residents and our responders have had a difficult time locating the residences because of the lack of street signs," said Talbert.

And that's exactly what happened to Rhodes.

Back in January, a renovated bus next to her house went up in flames.

"They had no idea," said Rhodes. "I tried explaining, you go in, you go left, you turn left and you're trying to give this operator directions and still explain what's going on and make sure you're getting everybody out of the house and it was a mess."

She's said if it wasn't for the flames, firefighters may not have found the bus.

"I don't want to say lucky, but the flames were high enough that you'd be able to see them from far away. And I'm not grateful for that because I'd rather not have a fire, but in a way, thank God," Rhodes expressed.

An incident like this just underscores why these firefighters went above and beyond their call of duty to install code compliant street signs.

"We'll I think anytime you put street signs up that are visible and they can be see from the road, it can't do anything but increase our response. Not just from us as responding, but any person that would call us in their time of need and need our services or law enforcement services," said Talbert. "As the community's first responders, our firefighters and deputies being able to get to someone in their time of need is of vital importance. So in this case we felt like bureaucracy was inhibiting us from making sure the residents and visitors here could be responded to in a timely fashion."

"The old signs are these wood, bollards. They are very hard to see at night. These are reflective, so obviously at night time you'll be able to see them a lot better," said Tim Tricker, who also lives in the neighborhood.

"I actually feel safer now," said Rhodes.

Chief Talbert said by doing this small deed, he hopes to brings attention to some other neighborhoods that may be in a similar situation.

"I think if you're in a private community where you have the streets maintained by the homeowners association. Allow us to come speak to the homeowners association. Let us help work and develop some solutions and some ways to help them with that," Talbert offered.

He goes on to say as first responders, they wanted to make sure they put the public's safety and security first.

"People have had some emergency vehicles come in, so I think they'll be pleased we have better street addresses now," said Tricker.

"I'm just so thankful to the South Walton Fire Department to take the initiative to go ahead and do this," Rhodes expressed.

South Walton Fire District firefighters put up a total of five street signs in The Pines of Blue Mountain neighborhood.