Key West firefighter Robert Franco and his family lost their home to Hurricane Wilma in 2005. CITY OF KEY WEST/Contributed

Key West firefighter Robert Franco’s house on Ashby Street has been in his family since 1978. But in 2005, Hurricane Wilma severely damaged the home, according to city spokeswoman Alyson Crean.

Now, the Key West community, once again, is pitching in to build a struggling local resident a proper, brand-new house. 

On Jan. 10, about 60 people gathered at the Francos’ home to celebrate a new beginning. 

The crowd included first responders from the Key West fire and police departments and local contractors, who gathered around Robert Franco, his wife Elizabeth and their twin teenage daughters to declare the new home officially under construction. 

Franco has been battling cancer while continuing to work as a city firefighter, Crean said. 

“He and his wife Elizabeth, along with their twin daughters – high school juniors – have not been able to rebuild the home due to health and financial issues,” Crean said, in a statement released to the press after the Jan. 10 groundbreaking. 

KWFD Local 1424, the firefighters’ union, with help from licensed contractors, have begun the process and are donating time and raising money to build the new house for the Francos, who are also raising money through a GoFundMe account and a new nonprofit. The GoFundMe account is called “Robert Franco fund-KW firefighter battling cancer,” as of Jan. 16 had raised nearly $1,400 with a goal of $20,000.

“These funds will help pay for any materials that are not being donated” by businesses, Crean said. 

In 2021, the community attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of a renewed house on Galveston Lane, where a fire had destroyed Alelia Butler’s home and nearly took her life. 

Although her family had owned the property for ages, the fire left Butler with neither a home nor any belongings. At that point, more than 60 companies and volunteers came together to donate building materials, time, work hours and even furniture to give Butler a brand-new, turn-key home.

Butler, who understands better than most the positive impact this community can have, attended the Jan. 10 groundbreaking for the Francos. 

Frank and Mercy Herrada, of FMH Builders, were at the event to present the Francos with the permits that will enable construction to begin immediately.

FMH Builders is the lead contractor on the project, just as they were for Butler’s home. 

KWFD Division Chief Jason Barroso, who led the Butler house project, is now organizing the Franco home. Barroso said the goal is to have the Francos in their new home sometime this year.