EAST LAKE — East Lake firefighters rushed to Debbie Ordes' home a few years ago to treat her cousin for a severe reaction to medication after a kidney transplant.
Before Christmas, they made a special trip with Santa to visit a sick child on her block.
They even came to Ordes' rescue when she had a black racer snake stuck in her dryer vent.
They've shown Ordes they care about her and others in the community. Now, Ordes wants to show the East Lake firefighters the community cares about them.
She's forming a nonprofit group called Friends of East Lake Firefighters.
"I want it to be a bridge for the community to link to them," said Ordes, 45.
The idea came to Ordes after she and her 7-year-old daughter, Nicole, took a tour of Station 58.
The crew there seemed to have everything they needed in terms of fire and safety equipment, Ordes said. But she was unimpressed by the stark, not-so-homey firehouse.
"The facility itself could use some updating, and I thought maybe the community might want to make contributions in that area," she said.
A few things caught her eye: The small, somewhat stale mattresses in their sleeping quarters. The rec room with three squeaky blue recliners. And the cramped workout room with three pieces of equipment.
"I come from New York," Ordes said, who moved to Tarpon Woods about 15 years ago. "It's a lot different there. The fire stations are just magnificent."
Ordes is hoping people and businesses in the community can come forward with small tokens to make the stations feel more like home or provide other services to make them feel appreciated.
The specifics have not yet been laid out. But so far Ordes and her group plan to help out with a silent auction for the firefighter's annual recognition banquet so that future banquets can be more "festive."
And one local gym, Anytime Fitness on Ridgemoor Road in Palm Harbor, has already stepped up to offer the firefighters a "heroes" discount package.
Firefighter Ron Baclawski, a driver-engineer at Station 58, said he'd love to have better gifts for the kids for Fire Prevention Week.
He and other firefighters said they were touched by Ordes' effort.
"It shows us that people do care," said firefighter-paramedic Kenny Lane. "Nowadays with all of the cutbacks I just wish that more people felt like her."
When Lt. Greg Godwin found out about Ordes' idea, he was "shocked."
Back when he started in 1999, he could tell the citizens were appreciative.
"Over the years, it seemed like everyone just stopped caring," Godwin said.
That's not the case, Ordes said. "When people hear you're doing something for (the firefighters), they want to join in," Ordes said.
People in the community already support the firefighters, doing things like preparing holiday dinners for them, but, up until now, there hasn't been a coordinated effort to support them, said East Lake fire commissioner Paul Ferreri.
"Each and every individual thing this group will do is not necessarily awe-inspiring," Ferreri said. "But collectively, if your firefighters feel truly appreciated by the community, that's a good thing."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155.