ORLANDO, Fla. – Nearly a year after Hurricane Irma, Bob Thomas was still trying to patch the holes left by the storm's impact -- literally.
The tarps and plywood covering the roof damage to Thomas' home from Irma still let in water, which caused mold growth and damage. Thomas made some repairs to the home on Lanette Street, which he has lived in since 1987, but could only do so much. He said he did his best with limited income and medical and insurance issues.
"There were times that I didn't have tools or materials, but I still went for it and did the best I could," Thomas said.
Orlando firefighter Felix Marquez was in the neighborhood passing out and installing smoke detectors for the residents on Saturday. When Marquez saw Thomas and his wife trying to haul a piece of plywood, he was immediately drawn to help. He asked Thomas about the repairs and saw the extent of the water damage inside the home.
"It broke my heart," Marquez said. "When I left, I went back to the station and started texting fellow brothers and firefighters."
Marquez and other firefighters spent almost $3000 of their own money to buy plywood and rent tools so they could fix Thomas' roof. When they told Thomas their plans, he said that their generosity made him cry.
"I couldn't imagine this could have happened to me," Thomas said.
The firefighters came out to Thomas' home while off-duty on Sunday to tear off all the old plywood and replace it. The goal for the day was to replace the wood, cover it and then put a tarp over it that will stop any leaks.
Marquez said Sunday's work is a good first step toward the total repair of the roof.
"At least today he'll be able to sleep in his house," he said. "If it rains, it's not going to rain in his house. That's our goal."
Thomas' neighborhood has seen its share of tragedy. A few streets over, on Lescot Lane, a house fire took the lives of a 9-year-old girl and her grandmother, which prompted the OFD firefighters to start handing out smoke detectors.
Thomas made sure to have one installed in his home on Saturday.
OFD spokeswoman Ashley Papagni said the department is proud of the firefighters' initiative to help someone in need.
"The firefighters hope that acts like these will remind people the importance of helping neighbors in need and maybe others will join in and pay it forward," she said.
Marquez said whether the installation is a smoke detector or a new roof, he and all firefighters are happy to help serve the public.
"I'm a public servant and this is in my blood," Marquez said. "My reward is to see this man being so happy about him sleeping tonight without it raining in his house."
To Thomas, the help has been more than a routine public service. Emphasizing the firefighters' honor, he said he is grateful for all that they've done.
"I'm very appreciative," Thomas said. "I'm like one of those old school persons, thank you, thank you, thank you."
Anyone else who wants to help Thomas can email OFDpublicrelations@CityofOrlando.com.