A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.
By Jorge Gomez
The storm warnings have been issued, but you have decided to stay. The hurricane makes landfall and ravishes your home, leaving it in ruins with your family trapped inside. Roads damaged by flood waters are impassable and your family’s situation becomes increasingly grim. Until, in the distance, the beacon of a rescue vehicle begins to flash. Despair turns to hope as your family is freed from the anguish of your once stable home. For some, each year’s hurricane season could potentially lead to this life-threatening scenario. As a member of the Urban Search and Rescue team, Florida Task Force 3, former HCC student Lt. Steven Fortier has built a career around serving countless strangers in their time of greatest need. Fortier’s career in rescue began nearly 28 years ago as a lifeguard for the city of Tampa. The next logical step led Fortier to HCC where he completed the Minimum Fire Standards program to become a Tampa firefighter. As Fortier moved up through the ranks within the department, he joined the task force seven years into his career. The added responsibility came naturally to Fortier, who always looked for an opportunity to give back to his community. “We do a lot of stuff that people don’t want to do,” Fortier said. “Stuff that makes you feel good.” Task Force 3’s last deployment came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Fortier’s team contributed to one live rescue during its assignment but dealt with the difficult task of recovery rather than rescue. Although the team strives to be on the scene of a live rescue, witnessing devastation remains a difficult byproduct of the mission. Providing closure for those families separated by tragedy is a duty that Fortier still deems necessary during the recovery process. In 2000, Fortier’s selflessness was acknowledged by his peers when he was named Firefighter of the Year. The award recognized an exemplary career of civil service highlighted by an extreme act of altruism. Fortier donated bone marrow to a stranger in Colorado stricken with cancer, who now lives cancer-free. Mark Fernandez, a 15-year veteran of the Tampa Fire Department, echoes many of the praises regarding his comrade. Fernandez recognizes unwavering confidence as an attribute that defines Fortier’s persona both on and off the clock. “When Steve shows up on the scene, you think, ‘Thank God someone’s here,’” Fernandez said, describing the unrivaled knowledge and composure Fortier brings to every call. Fortier’s passion for giving, coupled with a strong focus on continued education, has naturally evolved into the role of educator. As an emergency medical technician instructor at Tampa’s Learey Technical Center, he finds immense satisfaction contributing to the education of future emergency responders. With thoughts of retirement on the horizon, Fortier contemplates the possibilities of continuing on as an educator in the days after his bunker gear is hung up for good. “It’s a good feeling when I see them on the street and I go ‘Yeah, I trained that person,’” Fortier said. “I am helping them get into a position where they can also make a difference in somebody’s life.”