Sixteen Hoffman Estates, IL Local 2061 members are finally back in the United States after being stranded in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for several days in the aftermath of Hurricane Odile, a Category 3 storm.
The fire fighters were attending the destination wedding for Local 2061 member Tom Mangiameli. The wedding took place, but Hurricane Odile made landfall the following night.
Local 2061 member Pat Fortunato who was among the wedding guests said that hotel staff did not give guests sufficient warning about the storm. “They didn’t seem worried at all, but when we saw them boarding everything up, we knew it was more serious,” says Fortunato. “It hit overnight, but we could hear the winds. When it got bad, we moved away from the windows.
The storm knocked out power. At first, the hotel was able to use a back-up generator, but it did not last long. Cell phone reception was spotty, food was available in limited quantities and all operations at the closest airport were suspended.
“We did what fire fighters always do. We assessed the situation and offered to help,” says Fortunato.
The fire fighters also took a lot at the surrounding area. What they found was significant damage to the power lines, flooding and people looting. “We knew then that services would not be up any time soon and the safest thing to do would be to return to Illinois,” he says.
“Because phone service was so unreliable, my members could not get in touch with me until September 17, three days after the hurricane,” says Local 2061 President Dean Slater. “My first phone call was to Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois (AFFI) President Pat Devaney.”
“Our priority was getting our members home safely, so we contacted anyone who might be able to help, including Governor Pat Quinn’s office,” says AFFI President Devaney.
Word quickly spread to the IAFF and 8th District Vice President Paul Hufnagel. The IAFF alerted Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) office to the situation. All notified parties at the state and nation levels were working on a solution.
Ultimately, National Civic Protection Group personnel were sent to the hotel to help the wedding party and other stranded individuals to the airport.
Finally, on September 18, the fire fighters and the rest of the wedding party found transportation to the airport, where they boarded available flights. All Local 2061 members are home.