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Irma evacuee finds firefighter’s lucky stuffed dog
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Photo courtesy of JIM LUNDH
Seminole Fire Rescue’s Lieutenant Firefighter Jim Lundh and his daughter, Kayla, center, met Bev Anderson after she found and returned his lucky stuffed Dalmatian dog to him following an emergency call during Hurricane Irma. Kayla, who is now 20, gave the dog to her father 18 years ago.
SEMINOLE – Bev Anderson moved to Indian Rocks Beach in 1986, less than one year after Hurricane Elena hit the Tampa Bay area.

For 20 hurricane seasons, she weathered storms from her apartment, no matter how powerful, no matter what the forecast.

“None of them ever worried me,” she said.

After all, she had lived in Tornado Alley for a decade, and grew up in southern California, where she experienced earthquakes at a young age. So hurricanes didn’t concern her much.

“I never had a bad feeling before,” Anderson said. “Even when they said we might have to evacuate. So I never left.”

Then came Hurricane Irma this past September.

Her apartment is located in evacuation zone A, and the county forced her and others who live along the beaches to leave their homes, she said.

With nowhere else to turn, she and her neighbor, Amy Steinkellner, headed to Seminole’s Tamarac by the Gulf, a 55 and older community, where friends owned a home and offered her a safe haven. Her friends are snowbirds, though, and they were in Connecticut when Irma hit.

So Anderson and Steinkellner let themselves in and settled down to wait for the storm to pass.

All of these “moving parts” aligned to put them in “the right place at the right time” to do a good deed for a local first responder.

“It took a lot for me to even be there in the first place,” Anderson said.

For 18 years, Lieutenant Firefighter Jim Lundh has had the same routine when responding to fire rescue calls.

Based at Seminole Fire Rescue’s Station 31, as he grabs his gear before joining his crew in the truck, he always makes sure his fuzzy good luck charm – a stuffed Dalmatian dog, “the kind you win at the fair” – is with him. He never goes out on a call without it.

As he rides to these incidents, he places the dog – named Kayla, after his 20-year-old daughter – in his helmet that sits in his lap. When he puts the helmet on, he places the dog on his seat.

“It’s like a part of my gear, part of my job,” Lundh said.

His daughter was 2-years-old when she gifted her father with the stuffed dog. He had just started working with Seminole Fire Rescue, and Kayla – his daughter, not the stuffed animal – thought it would bring him luck.

He and his daughter had actually won the stuffed dog together while playing the claw machine game at the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s restaurant that was formerly located in a strip mall at Seminole and Park Boulevards.

As the crane dropped their prize down the chute, his daughter “immediately thought of my fire truck,” he said.

She called it “rescue dog” at first. But he decided to name it after her.

Since then, the dog has been one of his most prized possessions.

On Oct. 10, Anderson and Steinkellner thought it might be best to sleep through the storm. So just before midnight, they prepared themselves for bed.

That’s when they noticed flashing red lights out the front door.

“We looked up the hill and saw a house on fire,” Anderson said.

Lightning struck a transformer behind the house. The lightning went through the home’s roof and caused the water heater to burst into flames, she said.

Earlier in the day, they’d heard on the radio that first responders wouldn’t answer any emergency calls because of weather conditions.

“I couldn’t even believe they were out there,” Anderson said.

Lundh was one of four fire personnel dispatched to relieve the initial crew that had responded.

Normally they wouldn’t respond because of the weather.

“But we responded because other houses were possibly in danger,” he said. “It was pretty interesting conditions. The wind and the rain were sucking stuff out of the truck.”

As he did on every call, he brought Kayla, his lucky stuffed dog, with him.

When he arrived on the scene, he donned his helmet, set the dog on his seat and got to work fighting the blaze.

It wasn’t until the next day that he realized the stuffed animal hadn’t made it back to the fire station with the rest of the crew.

Grateful for the responders coming out despite the hurricane raging around them, Anderson and Steinkellner decided they would do something nice for them after Irma had passed.

The morning after the fire, as the storm moved on, they walked up the hill towards the home that had burned. That’s when Anderson spotted a stuffed dog in a nearby gutter.

At first, she thought a child had dropped the toy.

“But eventually I thought it might belong to the firefighters,” she said. “I thought it might be part of the truck. So we decided we would bring it back to them.”

She and Steinkellner were soon allowed back into their homes along the beach. They brought the dog with them and washed it with Dawn dish soap in Anderson’s kitchen sink.

“It was pretty grungy when we found it,” she said.

Steinkellner sewed the pup’s smile back on its face. In the storm, the thread that composed its mouth came loose.

They took pictures of the dog’s “little journey” along the way.

They tracked down the closest fire station to their friends’ Tamarac-area home, placed the dog in a matching black-and-white gift bag and showed up at Station 31.

Anderson told the firemen on duty, “I think I have something that belongs to your truck.”

Lundh had the day off, but the other firefighters told her it belonged to him.

One told her, “Jim has been so sad since he lost that thing.”

She learned the dog’s story from Lundh’s co-workers.

“It just chokes you up when you first hear it,” she said. “It’s even more special than I thought it was.”

Anderson left the dog and her phone number. Lundh reached out to her after his next shift to thank her for reuniting him with his lucky charm.

For Anderson, “it was the best experience from the storm,” she said. “I didn’t want to leave. I’ve rented there for 20 years and I kept thinking I might not have a place to live after this is over. I didn’t even know what I was packing for.”

Lundh agrees.

“It was neat the way it happened,” he said. “[In this job,] during events like [Hurricane Irma], the stuff you see people go through, the sadness in their lives weighs on you. It was wonderful to see the good in people.”
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