They’re the first ones on the scene of an accident on U.S. 1. They’re the first ones to arrive when things go wrong. 

On water and land, the Florida Keys’ first responders are at the top of their game when called upon to assist members of the public in a time of need. 

The job of a first responder can bring long hours and periods in the intense heat. They deal with people who are stressed or at their worst moment. A first responder’s job also carries the unknown over what kind of call will come in and when. 

This Saturday, Sept. 11, marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. More than 400 first responders lost their lives that morning, and thousands more who responded to the incident continue to struggle with the mental and physical wounds. 

This week, we honor their memory and show our appreciation to our local responders who serve the Keys communities. There are many things that make the Florida Keys a special place to live — a community of dedicated first responders being one of them. 

MIDDLE KEYS

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay
Sheriff Rick Ramsay, elected in 2012, is the most decorated deputy in the history of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, receiving 93 commendations of merit. On Sept. 5, he attended the American Legion Post 154 ceremony to honor veterans and took a moment to share his thoughts about being a first responder.

Age: 55.
Hometown: I grew up in Long Island.
Currently residing: Marathon
Department: Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
Position/rank: Sheriff
Years of service: 34

What led you to choose being a deputy/officer/EMT/firefighter? 
I always wanted to be a police officer or fly helicopters for the army since I was a kid.

What’s the best part of your job?
Helping people. Last week, there was a lady on the side of the road with a blown tire. So, as hot as it was, I jacked up her car and put on a spare tire so she could save money on towing. It’s a small thing that can really make a difference in people’s lives.

Where were you on 9/11?
I was a captain in the main jail in Key West sitting at a desk when the first craft hit the tower. I thought it was an accident. Then we figured out what was happening. 

FWC Lieutenant Dodd Bulger
Florida Fish and Wildlife Lieutenant Dodd Bulger also attended the American Legion Post 154 veterans ceremony. He achieved his dream to be a first responder later in life and feels proud to ensure that boaters enjoy the water safely while protecting our resources.

Age: 53
Hometown: Okeechobee, Florida 
Currently residing: Sugarloaf
Department: Florida Fish and Wildlife
Position/rank: Lieutenant
Years of service:  13

What led you to choose being a deputy/officer/EMT/firefighter? 
It’s a dream I’d always had. My grandfather in Okeechobee was a deputy in the sheriff’s department. So I was on reserve for the sheriff’s department in Okeechobee. But I got married and the dream got delayed a little.

What’s the best part of your job?
It’s the best job in the world. I get to go on a boat and ensure everybody enjoys themselves every day while doing it safely and protecting our resources.

Where were you on 9/11?
I was 33 years old in Howell, Michigan, drinking coffee at my job as a systems engineer. I turned on the news after the first plane hit. I thought, “This can’t be happening.”

Marathon Fire Rescue Chief John Johnson

Age: 62.
Hometown: Camden, New Jersey
Currently residing: Marathon.
Department: Marathon Fire Rescue.
Position/rank: Chief.
Years of service: 42 years, and this is my fourth department.

What led you to choose being a deputy/officer/EMT/firefighter? 
Wanting to help people. I went to college for photography in Pittsburgh, but then I joined the volunteer department in New Jersey and got involved up there. I wanted to be part of the community.

What’s the best part of your job?
We’re a big family. Any fire station around the world will take you right in.

Where were you on 9/11?
I was working for Boca Raton as a firefighter. I was sitting in an insurance meeting, and they were telling us our rates were going up (laughs). We saw it on the news. I was a member of Florida Task Force 2, got called for deployment for the Towers, and waited in Miami. I never got deployed. A lot of people that I know who went got sick with respiratory and mental issues.

Marathon Fire Rescue Lieutenant Shana J. Rogers

Age: 53.
Hometown: Miami.
Currently residing: Miami.
Department: Marathon Fire Rescue.
Position/rank: Lieutenant.
Years of service: 16-1/2.

What led you to choose being a deputy/officer/EMT/firefighter?
Helping people is a theme of my whole life as far as I can remember. As a young person traveling with my father there was a terrible accident on the road. We pulled over and I tried my best to see if everybody was okay. 

What’s the best part of your job?
We’re a unique culture of individuals who are here for the same reason. It’s a second family. And you never know what’ll happen next, from the moment you get here to the moment you leave. 

Where were you on 9/11?
I was home in Miami. I had graduated college and was working in telecommunications sales. As horrific as it was, I’ve become more deeply connected to 9/11, to the firefighters who did the same thing we do and lost their lives doing what they love.

Marathon firefighter/paramedic Ryan Mesh

Age: 30.
Hometown: Miami.
Currently residing: Miami.
Department: Marathon Fire Rescue.
Position/rank: Firefighter/paramedic.
Years of service: 5 years.

What led you to choose being a deputy/officer/EMT/firefighter? 
A friend whose father was a firefighter put the idea in my bread. After school, I would walk around the local fire station. I once called 9-1-1 for my grandmother. Seeing how they helped her made me want to pursue that.

What’s the best part of your job?
Helping others in need and providing that safety to people.

Where were you on 9/11?
I was in fifth grade in elementary school. A neighboring teacher came into our room and said a plane flew into the building. Then we watched the live feed. The teacher turned off the TV immediately when she realized what was happening.

Marathon Fire Rescue firefighter/paramedic Denis Austin Timothy

Age: 24.
Hometown: Spring Hill, Florida
Currently residing: Key Largo
Department: Marathon Fire Rescue
Position/rank:  firefighter/paramedic
Years of service: Five years next month.

What led you to choose being a deputy/officer/EMT/firefighter? 
During EMT school on ride-alongs it opened my eyes to what this career would entail — the amount of good you can do for somebody, whether it’s an old lady who has fallen down or someone who needs to talk to someone. Next, you have a car accident. No day is the same.

What’s the best part of your job?
The gratification when you know you helped someone’s life. 

Where were you on 9/11?
In daycare — I was about 4 years old. I was first aware of 9/11 when I was 6 and I saw people holding signs in protest of our involvement in Iraq. I asked my mom what the signs were.

Marathon Fire Rescue firefighter/paramedic Chris Ryan Cameron

Age: 36.
Hometown: Marathon
Currently residing: Marathon
Department: Marathon Fire Rescue
Position/rank: Firefighter/paramedic
Years of service: 12

What led you to choose being a deputy/officer/EMT/firefighter? 
My grandfather and father were both firefighters. I was an assistant manager in Home Depot and it wasn’t fulfilling. I volunteered and got certifications and I felt fulfilled. I was born and raised here, and it’s good you can be there for people you know. 

What’s the best part of your job?
The confidence it’s given me. I’m a father of two boys. No matter what, I can take care of my loved ones.

Where were you on 9/11?
I was going to college. I was walking to the bathroom when the second plane hit. My brother and I watched it on TV. Knowing my father was a firefighter was pretty impactful.

Marathon Fire Rescue Driver/Engineer Edwin Marquez

Age: 40
Hometown: Miami
Currently residing: Miami
Department: Marathon Fire Rescue
Position/rank: Driver/Engineer
Years of service: 16

What led you to choose being a deputy/officer/EMT/firefighter? 
Friends — motivation from them. They work for this department and inspired me to go to EMT school. 

What’s the best part of your job?
Helping people and the camaraderie. It’s definitely my extended family. And the adrenaline rush.

Where were you on 9/11?
I was at Miami-Dade College. English class started at 9 a.m.. The instructor came in and said a plane hit the World Trade Center. We turned on the TV and saw the second plane hit. I was 21 years old four days later. That day was such a weird day. My generation never experienced anything like that.

Florida Fish and Wildlife officers Jason Richards (left) and Jeremy Foell (right) are tasked with protecting marine resources around the Dry Tortugas. 

“The Tortugas patrols can take us hundreds of miles offshore of Key West,” said Foell, adding they have stopped boats of all sizes including 12-foot skiffs and more recently a 475-foot freighter anchored in a coral protection zone.

Foell graduated from Marathon High School where the father of one of his buddies, Pat Langley, worked as a marine resource officer who he credits as his inspiration to seek a career with FWC. He was attending Stanley Switlik Elementary on 9/11 and vividly remembers the teachers being instructed to turn off all the TVs so as to not upset the young children.  

Richards hails from Brooksville, Florida. The son of a firefighter, he watched the second tower collapse during high school math class.

Twelve years ago he was working as a park ranger at Long Key State Park when FWC officer Bob Dube encouraged him to apply for the state agency. 

Today, both officers share the same motivation for their work. 

“I want my 12-year-old daughter to be able to enjoy our natural resources,” said Richards, who is married to a nurse at Fishermen’s Community Hospital. Foell and his wife, a native Key Wester, have a year-old son.

LOWER KEYS & KEY WEST

Officer Michael Shouldice, Key West Police, U.S. Army (retired)

Michael Shouldice had been a U.S. Army infantry soldier from 1996 to 1999, serving in places like Bosnia. By September 2001, he was attending community college in Buffalo, New York.

“Right when the attacks happened, I headed straight to my local Army recruiter’s office and said, ‘I want back in. I want to go overseas and do whatever I can for my country.’”

And he did, ending up first in Kuwait and then in Iraq, witnessing indescribable horrors that still make Shouldice’s hands tremble. 

“Before we deployed, we went to New York City and Ground Zero in uniform,” he recalled. “The praise and thanks we got from people everywhere while staring down into that pit was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. I’ll never forget it. It felt the way our troops must have felt in World War II.

“After 9/11 we really did feel we were fighting a war on terror, whether we were in Afghanistan or Iraq, there was a sense of being a liberating army. But after that, after I had somehow made it out of  that desert alive, I’d had enough. I felt vindicated in having done my part. That’s why I moved here to Key West. I joined the Key West Police Department in 2006. I had done my part, but it was too much.”

Officer Tom Stutz, Key West Police, U.S. Army (retired)

Tom Stutz was in the U.S. Army Reserves in 2001, and working in private security late at night.  “I remember getting a call from my wife, who was also in the reserves and working at a bank in western New York. She said, ‘Turn on the television. We’ve been attacked and the Army is trying to reach you.’”

“My first call was to my reserve unit, and my first and only question was, “When do we leave? I want to go now. We’re New Yorkers and the towers got hit. We’re military, and the Pentagon got hit.’ There was never another time in my life when I was more willing to go.”

Stutz, too, recalled the brotherhood, the solidarity, the unity that filled this country in the wake of 9/11.

“In America, we love a good fight, and if we don’t have a common enemy, we turn on ourselves. Look at what’s happening now. There are still plenty of bad bullies out there in the world who need to get their asses kicked. We have the strength; we need the resolve.”

Detective Marcus del Valle, Key West Police

Marcus del Valle wears a Key West police badge on his belt, but 20 years ago, when those planes struck the towers and punched a hole in the heart of America, del Valle was a Key West firefighter.

“I was here that morning, in the fire station, which was brand new back then,” del Valle recalled on a recent morning. “We saw the first plane hit and didn’t really know what was happening. Then the second one hit. I called my brother at another fire station here in town and told him, ‘We’re at war.’”

Nothing was the same after that morning. Parents pulled their children out of schools.

“People kept calling the fire stations and the police station just to see if we knew any more than they did. For weeks and months after that, we were doing decontaminations of people during those anthrax scares. Fortunately, given our geographic isolation, Key West police and fire have always been really good and getting our guys trained, and that year it had been HAZMAT training. We had 22 guys certified in HAZMAT procedures.”

In the months that followed the 9/11 attacks, the country came together. People donated blood, money and time. American flags hung in car windows and waved in the fall and winter winds.

“We did a ‘Fill the Boot’ fundraising drive in Key West the week after the attacks and raised $40,000. It was an amazing show of solidarity. 

“But most importantly, our job is our job,” del Valle said. “We’re not doing it to be called a hero.”

UPPER KEYS

Bobby Dube is a 32-plus-year marine patrol officer in the Florida Keys. Beginning with Florida Marine Patrol and then Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Dube said he couldn’t handle being a teacher and needed a career change. That’s when he entered the academy and became a marine officer. Dube, of Plantation Key, Islamorada, said he enjoys helping visitors and the community, as well as protecting and preserving the natural resources for future generations. Dube said he was getting off a cruise ship ferry onto the Cayman Islands when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

Lissette Quintero has spent 11 years in law enforcement. Serving as detective sergeant within the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Quintero, of Marathon, said she entered law enforcement to make her community feel safe and secure. As to what she enjoys most about the job, Quintero said “Making a meaningful impact.” She was in Key West working a previous job on 9/11. “It changed my focus on home life and time spent with family. It increased my expression of patriotism and made me a more generous and caring individual.”

Sgt. Nick Whiteman is a Key Largo native who serves as road patrol supervisor within District 6, serving Islamorada. Now residing in Marathon, Whiteman, 37, said he always had interest in serving since he graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Army as a paratrooper infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division. “I did a tour in 2003-2004, and when I got out, the logical transition was to become a deputy sheriff back home.” Whiteman said the best part of the job is serving a community he grew up in and teaching the next generation of law enforcement in the police academies. “I want them to be better than I was at the same point in their careers. It is incumbent on myself and others to make our profession better than we found it.” Whiteman was a senior at Coral Shores High School watching TV in geometry class when the 9/11 tragedy occurred. “I was already enlisted in the U.S. Army under the delayed entry program. A year-and- -a-half later, I would find myself in Al-Fallujah, Iraq.”

 From left, Lt. Spenser Bryan, Det. Darnell Durham, Deputy Jose Hernandez, Deputy Tommy Durham, Det. Addison LaPradd and Det. Ian Barnett. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Spenser Bryan has served with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office for 11 years. He now is lieutenant of District 7 serving Key Largo and Tavernier. Bryan, 33, follows the footsteps of his dad, retired Capt. Corey Bryan, who served the sheriff’s office for 34 years. Spenser Bryan said the best part of the job is working with the men and women within the sheriff’s office and serving the Monroe County citizens. Bryan was in seventh grade on 9/11. “I was walking into school when I heard the news. It just reinforced my want to go into law enforcement at an early age.” 

Darnell Durham has been in law enforcement for 25 years. Today, he’s a detective with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. Durham, 45, said he chose law enforcement because he likes helping people “who can’t help themselves.” The best part of the job for Durham is giving the community a sense of relief. Looking back on 9/11, Durham said there was nothing but anger running through him. “I thought that we, as Americans, needed to do something to protect our country better.”

Key Largo native Jose Hernandez has served in the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office since 2017. With family in law enforcement, Hernandez, 25, always liked and was interested in the profession. He enjoys working in a community that he grew up in. “I like the people I work with and the command stuff. They treat us right. I like the hometown feel, and the community’s 100% behind us. It’s not like that in most other places.” Hernandez, who was 5 when 9/11 occurred, said it was a sad time and a hard one for the people who lived in New York City.

Tommy Durham has been a sheriff’s deputy for 16 years, of which 11 have been spent in Monroe County. Durham, 40, who is from Homestead, said he entered law enforcement to play a beneficial role within the community. “I grew up seeing a lot of bad things. I just wanted to make a difference and be something better.” Durham said even though deputies see people at their worst, “we’re here for them.” Durham said he was working at the jail on 9/11. “It opened my eyes and just changed me. It was terrible. I wish I could have been there to help during that time.”

Addison LaPradd has spent the past year as a detective with the sheriff’s office. Originally from Miami, LaPradd, 32, lives in Tavernier. As a detective, LaPradd works closely with the community. “I get to work on more specific crimes; that entails being in constant contact with the victims. You work more thoroughly and gather more detail in talking to people. You feel like you’re giving back a lot more.” LaPradd says he enjoys working with fellow detectives and others within the agency. “It keeps the mind fresh and you’re always learning something.” LaPradd was in middle school on 9/11. “It’s something I always look back on and never forget. I’m just glad to be in a position where I can help and assist and give back.”


Ian Barnett is a Monroe County detective of seven years. Before that, he spent several years on road patrol. Barnett, 47, said he enjoys bringing closure to fraud cases. “They can be lengthy and detailed. At the end of six months or so when I can make an arrest, it’s the best feeling I get.” Barnett said he was working for campus police in Nebraska when 9/11 occurred. “It made the world a little bit smaller. Things that happen in the Middle East and Europe aren’t as far away as they seem.”

Alex Hradecky has been a deputy for four years. Patrolling District 7, Key Largo to Tavernier, Hradecky said she always loved criminal justice, investigating crime and assisting communities. From Homestead, Hradecky, 26, said her initial interest was becoming an attorney in high school. “I began the criminal justice major at Miami-Dade College, which came to a pause while beginning my family. Shortly after my real job closed for business, I joined the police academy to chase the criminal justice career.” Hradecky said the best part of her job is helping citizens at their lowest points and changing the perception of law enforcement. Hradecky was in kindergarten during 9/11. “It absolutely shook my home life and all of America; 9/11 is a huge motivation to protect our citizens and our lands.”

Sgt. James Hager is a Gainesville native who lives in Key Largo. A 12-year member of law enforcement, Hager said he was hooked from his college days studying criminal law. “I had a professor who was a retired police officer. He gave me some great insight into law enforcement. I also had some relatives and close family friends in law enforcement that guided me into the profession.” Helping people and making a difference make the job an enjoyable experience for Hager, as well as the feeling of saving or changing a life in a positive way. “We live in the best community in the world, in my opinion. One small gesture can change someone’s day or even their life. I was raised on the motto ‘Treat people the way you want to be treated.’ Hager was at P.K. Yonge MIddle School in Gainesville during 9/11. “I distinctly remember everyone’s parents coming to pick them up early and the teachers playing the incident on TV.”

Chris Mattson has spent 18 years with Florida Fish & Wildlife. From Little Torch Key, Mattson, 49, said he had a good friend in the Keys whose dad worked for Florida Marine Patrol. “I was always interested in marine conservation.” The best part of the job, for Mattson, is the flexibility and the fact that no day is ever the same, as well as being outdoors and not at a desk. Mattson was an active-duty senior airman in the U.S. Air Force stationed on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as a security forces police officer on 9/11. “The base got locked down at 6 a.m. after the terror attacks.”

Roxana Perez is a lieutenant paramedic with Key Largo EMS. From Miami, Perez, 30, lives in Tavernier. Serving as paramedic for the past five years, Perez said her dream since she was young was jumping out of helicopters and saving lives. “I realized the military would be the best option for me, but what I didn’t realize is that at that time women were not allowed to do that specific job. I was discouraged but looked for the next best opportunity to save lives, which was being a first responder.” Perez said she has the opportunity to help strangers during their darkest times and showing kids the back of the rescue vehicle during career day. “Although it’s hard for me to narrow down one aspect of my job that I consider to be the best, I would have to note the versatility and spontaneity of being a paramedic. You never know what to expect.” Perez was in fifth grade practicing cursive writing when she received the news on 9/11. “Our teacher very calmly explained what was happening at that moment and how the lives of many people will forever change. I remember being scared but wanting to help somehow. As I got older and we continued fighting the war, I watched many courageous men and women fight to keep us safe. The urge of wanting to be someone that can save a life even when things are falling apart all around you remains in me and to this day I am beyond grateful that I have the opportunity to do so.”

Luis Tuero is lead paramedic with Key Largo EMS. Serving the community for five years, Tuero, 26, said the profession intrigued him from a young age, having family and friends within the fire rescue service. “It provided me the opportunity for ride-alongs, which made me see how much they enjoyed their careers and made it an easy career choice for me to follow.” Tuero, of Miami, said he enjoys the unexpected on any work shift and satisfaction knowing he’s doing his best for the betterment of a fellow person. Tuero was in first grade on 9/11. “I distinctly remember my teacher turning on the television and watching the events as they unfolded live. She told us, ‘Remember this moment because it will be U.S. history like never before.’ As I have studied and practiced in this field, I am constantly reminded of the sacrifice the men and women of 9/11 made. There are parts of this job that can be frightening at times, but when we give it our all for your neighbors, this job is the best anyone could ask for.”

From left, Islamorada Firefighter and EMT Taylor Russell, Lt. Erica Oliveira and Paramedic Danny Self. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Islamorada native Taylor Russell has spent the last year in the fire service. Six months were spent volunteering and four months full time. Russell, 25, always had whispers of entering the fire service, having grown up around family and friends who were in the profession. “The best part of the job is always being a part of the community.” 

A firefighter of 10 years, Lt. Erica Oliveira has spent the past seven years with Islamorada Fire Rescue. “I had friends in the fire service and I liked that aspect, so I decided to go that route instead of nursing.” Originally from Miami and now living in Homestead, Oliveira, 37, said she enjoys helping others and the gratitude from the public. “It makes you feel good inside.” Oliveira was in second period geography class during her senior year at high school on 9/11. “It definitely geared me toward civil service, helping others and making a difference.”


Danny Self has spent 13 years as a paramedic, the past five at the Islamorada Fire Department. From Key Largo, Self, 36, said family and friends who were in the fire department encouraged him to pursue a similar career. “They were telling me to go check it out and get into it. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do in high school.” Self said he enjoys serving a community he grew up in.

Key Largo Fire Department’s John Michel, Capt. David Garrido and Fabio De Las Cuevas. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

John Michel has spent the past four months as a firefighter with Key Largo Fire Department. From Miami, he said he always wanted to serve the community. “I wanted to enter the fire service at high school.” Michel said the best part of the job is being a part of the community, keeping up to date on what’s going on and interacting with people. Michel, who was 3 at the time of 9/11, said the tragic events brought a sense of pride in the country and a willingness to serve. “I wanted to be a part of that as well.”

Key Largo Fire Department Capt. David Garrido has spent 18 years in the fire service. Born in Jersey City and now residing in Homestead, Garrido was in high school when he witnessed and saved his grandfather, who went into cardiac arrest. “I had gone through a basic CPR class in high school and I performed it and brought him back.” Starting off as a volunteer and moving in as one of the first full-time personnel, Garrido, 45, said serving the community is the best part of the job. Garrido said he was working part-time at a retail store on 9/11. “I know exactly where I was at the moment. I was helping a customer with a jam in the paper copier. We had a little TV and noticed the first plane hit. It brought America closer. We came united. We became stronger.”

Fabio De Las Cuevas has served within the Key Largo Fire Department as driver/engineer for  four-and-a-half years. From Louisville, Kentucky, De Las Cuevas, 24, said what led him to enter the fire service was a moment in high school when fire rescuers were called to treat a family. “Ever since that day I wanted to become a firefighter.” De Las Cuevas said he enjoys serving the Key Largo community. He was only a few years old when 9/11 occurred. “I saw my mom cry, and I didn’t know what happened. Ever since that day,  it influenced me even more to be a firefighter. “

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