OKEECHOBEE — Chuck Akers is well known in Okeechobee. He is a veteran, and one of the most active volunteers in Okeechobee.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Akers joined the Marine Corps after he graduated from high school. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. although he did get to take part in a Mediterranean cruise at one point. He was part of the supply battalion and served three years.
After his discharge from the Marines, he went to Sanibel Island to visit his grand parents and never went back. He joined the voluntary fire department in Sanibel and went to school to become a firefighter, EMT, paramedic and then went to work for Fort Myers Beach Fire Department.
He has always been interested in the emergency field. He left the fire department and went to work for a fire alarm company, one of the largest manufacturers of fire alarms world wide.
Even after leaving the fire service, he remained involved becoming the first executive director of the Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association. He spent 17 years there. “I always had my hands in fire stuff,” he said.
He came to Okeechobee in 1998 when a friend asked him to come work with him in his business. Later, Akers started his own company called Event Managers. He teaches crowd management all over the state of Florida. They work with companies that have 50 or more people in the building at once, stadiums, fairgrounds, convention centers, etc. Many years ago, there was a fire in Rhode Island at a place called Station Night Club. As everyone tried to escape, they trampled each other at the door. No one could get out. One hundred young people were killed and 230 injured. Akers' goal is to prevent this from ever happening again. Since July 2012, Akers has been teaching classes on how to safely clear a building, how to manage the crowd. Since that time, more than 7,000 people have been trained statewide. Akers also trains the firefighters who do codes. He teaches them to look at buildings and make sure everything is up to code. After COVID-19 hit, Akers was not able to teach classes, because people were not allowed to gather. He will soon be starting his classes again though. He enjoys it, especially the travel. In addition to the classes on event management, he also does some conferences for fire marshals.
At this time, Akers is the president of both the city and the county volunteer fire departments. As a volunteer, Akers also worked with Red Cross for a short time. During his time with Red Cross, he connected with Brian Sell from the department of health (DOH). Sell had an organization called MRC (Medical Reserve Corps) which was funded by the DOH. Akers, working through Red Cross and Sell with MRC formed a partnership between the two organizations. Later, when Akers left the Red Cross, he stayed with the MRC. The MRC continued to grow until the state stopped its funding. Some DOHs still fund their MRCs, but this one could not afford to keep it up, he explained.
As part of their MRC training, Sell had the volunteers take CERT Training (Community Emergency Response Team.) After they lost funding for MRC, Akers decided they should form their own CERT team a couple years ago and call it Okeechobee County CERT.
One of the things the team does is to organize and distribute food at the Ag Center every month. Treasure Coast Food Bank supplies the food and the CERT team handles the distribution. They have been doing this for more than 10 years, but now it is on a much larger scale. They do approximately 300 cars every time they distribute. Recently, the Treasure Coast Food Bank has started a second monthly distribution out on the Prairie and the CERT Team helps with that one as well. In June, the second distribution will be held out on the Music Festival ground and they plan to alternate monthly between there and the Prairie. The Ag Center will continue with its monthly distribution as well.
The CERT team was activated to help with the vaccinations for COVID-19 and handles all the traffic at the vaccine pods.
Akers has a position with the Emergency Operation Center (EOC). He is ESF 15 and handles volunteers and donations. Any time CERT is activated, Akers goes to the EOC. When he knows something is coming, like a hurricane, he puts a call out to see who will be available. “It’s all volunteers remember,” he said. “Some will stay and some won’t.” He said he has no place to house the volunteers but encourages them to stay at a shelter to help out there, and then afterward come to the EOC. This way they have a safe place to go and are available to help after the storm.
Recently, the CERT team got HAM radio licenses and joined the HAM radio club in Okeechobee so they would be able to communicate in emergency. They still need a class on how to use it properly.
Last year when COVID-19 hit, Akers was also put in charge of logistics (supplies). His job is to handle all the PPE (personal protection equipment) supplies coming in by the truckload and distribute them to all the agencies in town. Each agency would put in requests, and they would try to fill them. They were not buying them but were requesting them from the state. “I feel like my job in the Marine Corps helped prepare me for the job. You couldn’t get anything out of my office without signing for it. It might seem funny to some people, but it is all about accountability. We don’t know what the federal government might want in the future. They might want us to account for all the gloves they sent us. We’re covered. I have every receipt, every mission which is what we call requests.”
Akers and the CERT team have always done events for/with the city fire department. They are at every parade, expo or festival handing out water and goodies for the kids. They plan to continue even after the city fire department is dissolved. “I’d hate to see the program die after all these years. It’s been so successful.” Not only do they attend events, they also supply the elementary schools and daycares with activity books on fire safety.
The CERT team is a member of the Okeechobee Chamber of Commerce and of Mainstreet.
Akers and his wife Juanita have been married for 44 years and have a daughter and a 9-year-old granddaughter. “My wife and I met on one Sunday and got married the next,” he said with a grin.