This is a story about fire doors and a challenge with dash of the past and future of the fire service tossed in the mix.
Start with the fire doors on South Gulf County Volunteer Fire Department’s Station 2, which were destroyed by the winds of Hurricane Michael.
The department had replaced the metal bay doors with temporary wooden facsimiles while the county awaits insurance dollars to replace the doors.
Hence, the challenge from Chief Vince Bishop, to transform the blue-painted doors into something a tad bit more eye-catching while signaling the department and community still stand.
The gauntlet tossed by Bishop was picked up by Assistant Chief Mike Barrett, a retired city of Dallas, Texas firefighter.
“Firefighters, we love a challenge,” Barrett said with a chuckle.
Barrett’s inspiration came from the 343 firefighters lost during 9/11, choosing an image which depicts New York’s Twin Towers against an American flag and Maltese cross, with “Never Forget” across the middle, “9 11 01” at top and the number 343 at bottom.
“It is a symbol of the challenge firefighters, whether urban firefighters or rural firefighters, face each day,” Barrett said. “I was looking for something that was more an honor for the fire service and 9/11.
“Three hundred and forty-three firefighters died that day. Giving your life is about as a big a sacrifice as you can make. There is also a point of pride about it: we are dented but we are still here.”
All Barrett needed was the artist.
And, little did he know, that among the ranks of the South Gulf Fire Department there was one: Katie Steiger.
The 2010 graduate of Port St. Joe High School developed a love art early from her mother.
Steiger set to work, painstakingly drawing out the intricate design by hand on each door before applying the first stroke of her brush using acrylic paints.
Due to the amount of rainy days, it took Steiger nearly a month to complete her artwork.
“I’ve always enjoyed art,” Steiger said. “(The doors are) something nice to look at.
“We are surrounded by rubble, but this looks bright and colorful.”
Barrett said the department has received numerous comments and plaudits about the doors.
Another side of this door-painting revolves around the artist.
Steiger and her fiancé Adam Hodge, a 2011 graduate of Port St. Joe High School, both 27, are among the newest and youngest members of the volunteer fire department.
Both have been with the department just short of a year and Hodge is pursuing schooling to become a full-time paid firefighter and EMT.
“They are the future of the fire service not only in Gulf County but the country,” Barrett said.
Steiger said last spring she attended a departmental meeting with Barrett. She was hooked.
“Call me crazy, but it seemed like the right thing to do,” Steiger said of joining the department.
Steiger also notes that working with the department, being on call for emergencies, is another part of her life she can share with Hodge.
“It’s a passion I have,” Hodge said of firefighting. “I love my community. I have a lot of pride in my community. I want to help people.
“I went to school to be a firefighter and I plan on being a paramedic. I don’t ever want to stop learning.”