OCPD aids Sebring in Hurricane Irma recovery

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Bob Peterson and Officer Luis Rojas were recognized in regard to the assistance provided by that agency to the people of Sebring during Hurricane Irma relief efforts.

A letter to Chief Peterson from Sebring Police Department Chief Karl Hoglund expressed his gratitude for helping their police department through Hurricane Irma.

The letter stated, “The assistance from your personnel as we began to recover from the storm proved invaluable. Each officer that volunteered brought with them professionalism, initiative, and a selfless willingness to get the job done regardless of the task. Put simply, I cannot thank each of them enough!”

OCPD personnel noted in the letter from Chief Hoglund were: officers Kelley Margerum, Michael Jordan, Luis Rojas, Brandi Drapal, Jamie Gamiotea, Ryan Holroyd, Raul Marrero, Sergeant P.E. Eddings and Lieutenant Justin Bernst.

“Each represented your department with honor, and I am forever grateful for their sense of service and dedication to duty,” continued the letter. “I would be grateful if a copy of this letter would be placed in each of their respective personnel files.”

Chief Peterson said his officers aided the Sebring community for a period of three to four days consisting of 12-hour shifts — all this after servicing the needs for the people here in Okeechobee.

Chief Hoglund requested immediate assistance, with the OCPD responding by dispatching all on-duty road patrol officers to the Sebring area. Chief Peterson, OCPD Major Donnie Hagan and detectives provided security and services to the people here in Okeechobee while the officers were out of the community. After the initial response by all the officers at the time, the OCPD continued to aid the people of Sebring on a volunteer basis, with a schedule in place to ensure time for the officers to recoup after such a strenuous ordeal.

“Nine of the officers assigned to road patrol volunteered after having worked a week non-stop here in our community and I am extremely proud of them,” the chief continued.

Only four of the 13 total road patrol officers could not go for the important fact that “… they were patrolling the city (Okeechobee) and would have volunteered if they could have,” noted Chief Peterson.

Chief Peterson went on to say: “It is important smaller cities and agencies support one another due to resources being limited because of the size of the communities and one day it may be us here in Okeechobee needing the help of our neighbors.”

City administrator Marcos Montes De Oca said: “As a community we were truly blessed and fortuitous to not have the full effects from Hurricane Irma — giving us the ability to help others without question.”

Mr. Montes De Oca went on to say he was happy to make calls to surrounding areas to offer assistance and having department heads provide their support.

“Police Chief Peterson, Fire Chief Herb Smith, Public Works director David Allen and support from Mayor Dowling R. Watford Jr. makes my job much easier, especially during a time of crisis,” noted the administrator.

Officer Rojas said he was happy to volunteer and lend a helping hand to the Sebring community.

“The experience was a real eye-opener with community business owners and individuals coming together to help one another. We were very lucky here in Okeechobee, in comparison and retrospect to some of the other communities,” he said. “The local citizens of Sebring responded similarly to the people of Okeechobee by being receptive to the law enforcement officers who came to provide assistance to their affected area.

“We were never in need of any resources to facilitate our presence, even children were lending a helping hand to OCPD officers, bringing them wet towels to combat the heat and humidity that is the all too familiar environment of South Central Florida,” offered Officer Rojas.

Another example of the OCPD’s efforts in Hurricane Irma recovery came by way of providing an escort for a FEMA truck in Hendry County from the Emergency Operations Center in LaBelle to its destination in Clewiston.

“The residents of Okeechobee should be extremely proud of not only the city staff but of themselves as well because the community came together as neighbors and friends, affording the ability to extend help to our regional neighbors,” Chief Peterson pointed out.

OCPD Chief Peterson and Officer Luis Rojas.

The Lake Okeechobee News is published every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and now includes news from around the lake every Wednesday.

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