MOORE HAVEN — A four-time Fireman of the Year for the Glades County Public Safety Department (GCPSD), 87-year-old Sheldon Barroquillo, is as of this month the Ortona Volunteer Fire Department’s new chief.
His election came as he gets ready to mark 34 years as a member of the OVFD in 2021. Chief Barroquillo has been a certified EMS emergency medical responder for 20 years, and also in the specialties of “Basic Wildland Behavior (S-130) and “Human Factors on the Fire Line (L-180)” for a decade each.
He earned all those certifications after originally becoming interested in joining the OVFD way back in 1987.
“How I got started was, they used to have a cane grind — the firemen were putting on the cane grind that was here. At that time, I associated with another, with a fireman, and he asked me to help them with Cane Grinding Festival. And ... I began working with the fire department then.”
His first step up the fire ladder in Florida was as a volunteer pitching in with duties around the station. Over the years, he was encouraged to take those classes by his cohorts, county officials and leaders of the then-fledgling GCPSD. In 1993 — he thinks that was the year — “we did a 40-hour volunteer class, so they had that. And then we had to do the fire hook class.”
Born in 1937, Barroquillo says, “I’m still a first responder. I’m certified a first responder out of Indiana, but I didn’t carry a ‘first responder’ (credential) here in Florida. And also I’m (qualified) on the brush truck (to respond) for brush fires, and I am, due to the public necessity that (brought) full-time firemen, all we’re doing now is answering whenever they need help, at a brush fire or big accident, or anything like that.”
He said they haven’t had a lot of calls for first responders in emergencies the past few years … because the Glades County Public Safety Department (GCPSD) just during that time has established full-time fire service coverage throughout the large, rural county, with those personnel responding to calls and getting assistance from the volunteer squads only when necessary in extreme emergencies. The GCPSD also has mutual aid agreements with several departments in surrounding areas and regionally, too, as it has had the backup of AeroMed’s fleet of helicopters, based out of Tampa General Hospital through hubs scattered throughout Central and Southwest-Central Florida, for years.
Does he have plans to ever retire, being that he’s still working at 87?
“Well, if there’s any way I can help, I’m gonna help,” he said flatly.
What’s been his best memory of his experiences as a public safety responder?
“The best experience is just being able to help,” and he remembered a couple of the worst crashes in Glades he’d ever been called to, one in which around 16 people were injured and eight were killed. He thinks that was five or six years ago. “That was the worst one,” Barroquillo said.
Asked about other memorable rescues, he said “that was the main one, but there have been many.”
Honors for his service
Chief Barroquillo also is active in the Ortona Community Association. In early 2014, after construction of the then-new, $190,000 community center and playground was completed, he was among “two volunteers (who) were recognized for all the work they did in helping with the construction of the new community center and playground. Sheldon Barroquillo helped clear the lot the building is on and was instrumental in designing and building the playground that’s on site for the children of the area,” the Caloosa Belle reported on Jan. 30 of that year.
Barroquillo earned the Fireman of the Year title for four consecutive years — in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. In 2013, he turned 80 years old.
Glades County residents’ safety depends on many hands, those of paid firefighters and volunteer responders, and for Chief Barroquillo, that means all hands on deck!