Irma’s Heroes


The phrase “it takes a village” describes perfectly how people and communities banded together to pick up the pieces after the biggest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic barreled through South Florida. Flood waters crept into homes, felled trees blocked roads, power remained out for days. But in the aftermath, a positive stands out: an outpouring of people helping people. These are just a few of the many at FIU who went above and beyond in a time of need.

Jose Tirado

For a man whose typical day consists of vacuuming carpets and disposing of office garbage, preparing a “nursery” for a four-day-old baby was a new experience.

While Jose Tirado was working at the Convocation Center, which served as a shelter for residents of the Florida Keys, he learned of a mother and her new born baby. He immediately thought of the infections and illnesses the baby could catch being surrounded by so many people. He outfitted a room in the Convocation Center with cots and blankets to help the small space feel more comfortable.

While working his 12-hour shifts, Tirado thought of his family in Puerto Rico, which was also hit by Irma, but he felt better knowing he was able to provide meaningful support to a community here that needed him.

Ricky Ramirez

It’s the small things in life that are often taken for granted. Something as simple as clean clothes can be easily overlooked because of its normalcy in day to day life. But after disaster strikes and there’s no way to get a hold of a fresh set of clothes what is one to do?

Ricky Ramirez had the foresight to think of that. The assistant athletic facilities director made the arena  washing machines available to the U.S. Public Health Service men and women. After days of being on their feet and cycling through their clean clothes Ramirez offered to wash every single service member’s uniform and personal clothes, so that at the beginning of every shift they had a fresh uniform to change into.

“In moments like these it’s about what can I do to help another individual who is experiencing the same thing as me,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez washed 40 uniforms over three days, a chore that some people dislike doing but he did with a smile on his face. It was his way of giving back to the people who were tending to the needs of the evacuees. Something he says he would do all over again.

Richard Samperisi

Richard Samperisi can sympathize with the victims of hurricane Irma who were displaced. His Campus Chiropractor office was converted into a shelter for the special needs patients evacuating from the Florida Keys.

The temporary relocation was predicted to last only 30 days, but 30 days has turned into two months and counting. His office currently houses U.S. Virgin Island residents who were moved to Puerto Rico prior to hurricane Maria. While the relocation isn’t very far, they’re currently located inside the Ambulatory Care Center in front of PG-5, it has presented Samperisi and his staff with challenges. However, for Samperisi giving up his space is the least he could do for a population of people looking for a safe place.

“This is a part of life. You have to be willing to roll with the punches and make adjustments,” Samperisi said.

Edmond McClendon, Lawana Dowda and Giovanna Ortiz

Heating up food for 400 people with just six butane burners sounds like a bad summer-camp movie, but an Aramark team did just that for folks who rode out the storm in a residence hall that sheltered students.

Edmond McClendon, Lawana Dowda and Giovanna Ortiz functioned as they would in a professional kitchen, even though they were working out of a conference room in Parkview Hall. As the storm barreled through South Florida, the three warmed up hot dogs, chili, nachos and whatever other comfort food they could find in the stash of provisions supplied in anticipation of a power outage. While everything came out of a box or a bag, the cooks worked overtime to supply warm meals and pleasant conversation.

“Getting to know the students and being able to interact with them on a more one-on-one basis made it the most memorable experience for me,” said Dowda, who along with the others normally can be found behind the scenes at the Fresh Food Company.

Aaron Johnson, Richard Penz and Abel Rodriguez

What does it take to prepare a university campus located on the water for a Category 5 hurricane? Just ask Aaron Johnson, Richard Penz and Abel Rodriguez, three members of the small, nine-person custodial team at FIU’s 200-acre Biscayne Bay Campus.

The campus’ geographic location puts it at risk for massive flooding. So the trio put in 10- to 12-hour days to fill 200 sandbags and install more than 1,000 shutters. With little time to secure their own homes, the men sacrificed sleep to finish their jobs in advance of the storm.

“I have a commitment to my work, and because we are such a small group, we all came together and pushed through to do what we needed to do,” Rodriguez said.

After the hurricane, the three quickly returned to work. Despite their own personal challenges getting back to campus—a 45-minute commute that turned into three hours, a concrete pole that landed smack in a driveway, a flooded apartment—they spent the next week mopping buildings, righting overturned outdoor furniture and collecting the debris that littered the otherwise breathtaking grounds.

“We made a big difference in just a few days,” said Johnson. “We got the campus back up and safe for students and employees.”

Jean Byron

Jean Byron is no stranger to hurricanes. A veteran of Hurricane Andrew, he learned at just 12 years old how to “ride it out.”

The athletics facilities manager felt compelled to stay at Ocean Bank Convocation Center owing to his familiarity with the building and his interest offering support to the Florida Keys evacuees who sheltered there. He greeted all who entered and paid special attention to anyone who seemed overly distressed.

One man in particular caught his attention. He appeared anxious, so Byron made the extra effort to reach out and learn his story, one that included a broken relationship, drug addiction and a precarious life. He encouraged the man to get clean and even offered to help him find work.

“It just shows how close we are to being a paycheck away from being homeless, or suffering from depression, or turning to drugs, or losing everything because of a natural disaster,” Byron said. “It touched me, and it made me appreciative of what I have.