A Trial by Fire

“Who knows how long this will last

Now we’ve come so far, so fast

But, somewhere back there in the dust

That same small town in each of us

I need to remember this

So baby give me just one kiss

Come and take a long last look,

Before we say goodbye…”

— Don Henley, The End of the Innocence”

Something about that old tune came back to haunt me this week when Hurricane Nicole’s fierce winds subsided and our worst fears were realized – “…armchair warriors often fail, and we’ve been poisoned by these fairytales, the lawyer’s dwell on small details, since daddy had to lie…”


One thing I learned during three-decades in municipal government is the bureaucracy must keep the boogeyman alive.  The golem that is always just around the corner – the specter that fuels training and equipment budgets, supports the reasoning for sitting on massive reserves, and is trotted out on non-election years to frighten constituents and anesthetize the pain of tax increases. 

But what happens when the monster comes to call? 

A “trial by fire” is a test of one’s ability to perform effectively under stress – to make timely and accurate decisions in a dynamic environment and quickly establish short, intermediate, and long-term goals – then work the plan and get every tool in the box working toward a solution without delay.    

Some theorize that the phrase alludes to the medieval practice of determining a person’s guilt by having them undergo a crucible, such as walking barefoot through a fire. It is also a painfully efficient way of exposing weakness and ineptitude when gale-force winds peel back the thin façade of competence of those we rely on when the chips are down.

By any metric, our first responders – area law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel have acquitted themselves as true heroes during both Ian and Nicole – a testament to their dedication to the mission of serving and protecting. 

How our senior bureaucrats will respond to the challenge of recovery and mitigation remains to be seen. . .

In government and politics, these tests represent a critical time when elected and appointed officials must effectively coordinate the various arms of an unwieldy bureaucracy, live up to the hype and pomposity that elevated them to high office, and effectively protect life and property. 

It’s not Rocket Science. We write Comprehensive Emergency Management Plans well ahead of threats – when things are calm – an all-hazards approach so that we have a roadmap for response and recovery operations post-incident.

Following the one/two punch of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, residents on both sides of Volusia’s “palmetto curtain” are beginning to question whether Volusia County officials have done everything possible to mitigate our vulnerability to natural disasters – and effectively respond to the grave and ongoing threat to homes and high-rise condominiums – some of which have already collapsed into the sea.

As politicians perversely pose for photo-ops with damaged homes as a backdrop – and some senior government officials step down from the Ivory Tower of Power to tour the devastation, get a little dust on the spit-shine, (and have their picture taken doing it) – frustration increases, and tempers are rightfully beginning to rise.  

Unfortunately, at a time when we need decisive leadership – we have entered that phase of the emergency where local officials look to county officials, county officials look to state officials, and state officials look to federal officials – hoping against hope the next level of bureaucratic incompetence will be marginally more effective than their own and provide the answers (and political insulation) they so desperately crave as the questions mount. . .

For instance, one resident of a teetering home in Wilber-by-the-Sea reported that Volusia County previously denied a request for a rock stabilization project behind her property – and others question why, in the wake of a personal inspection by Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday – what remains of the beach isn’t crawling with “200 dump trucks” replenishing sand and fortifying what remains of their foundations.  

Good question. . .

By contrast, within 24-hours post-Nicole, Flagler officials had already made temporary repairs to heavily damaged sections of A-1-A – yeoman’s work – that exemplifies the importance of a rapid and coordinated response to infrastructure restoration.

Now, we are being told by Florida Director of Emergency Management Kevin Guthrie that preliminary damage assessments won’t begin until Monday morning – yet, Volusia County has already released loss estimates north of $481 million.

Don’t worry, eventually everyone will get on the same page. I hope.

On Saturday, I mixed a strong Irish coffee and watched news coverage of the devastation on the south peninsula where beachfront property owners are beginning to point fingers and ask the hard questions – like why wasn’t more done to adequately manage beach erosion and stabilize protective barriers – while many residents are openly speculating whether building should be permitted east of Florida’s Coastal Construction Control Line.

Of course, some of those perennial politicians who cut their teeth weakening environmental protections and facilitating malignant growth across the width and breadth of Volusia County are tut-tutting that any consideration of limiting development east of crumbling A-1-A is an “overreaction” – while other pseudo-experts are telling me that the $20 million Governor DeSantis has earmarked for sand replenishment won’t work and more “strategizing” is needed (no doubt to determine who will get the lucrative contract to haul and push the sand around). . .


Frankly, these incompetent shitheels should be hanging their heads in shame – now that their cowardly handiwork has come home to roost. . .

Others are wondering what Volusia County’s “beach mismanagement” apparatus has been doing with the millions in public funds they have been given – and why those “experts” who staff our Coastal Division seem content to do the same thing over-and-over again while naïvely expecting a different result? 

In my view, the real focus of this growing scrutiny should rightfully be on Volusia County’s senior management – those overpaid Oz-like figures behind the curtain – like County Manager George “The Wreck” Recktenwald and Coastal Division Director Jessica Fentress – and others in this bloated bureaucracy who have sat on their thumbs while environmentalists, property owners, and civic activists begged for a proactive approach to beach stabilization for years

Surely, they had a plan in the books for this eventuality, right?

Right. . .

In many ways, those self-important dullards on the dais of power in DeLand are mere wooden figureheads who, truth be told, are just as frightened and clueless as the rest of us. 

That is why things happen despite them, not because of them.

The real power remains in the hands of an omnipotent County Manager – granted godlike powers by our sacrosanct county charter that was crafted in the craven image of the extremely wealthy insiders who created it – a single-point of almighty control that is easily influenced by external factions. 

This is Volusia County government’s “trial by fire.”

As a better picture begins to emerge of the true scope of coastal damage, we must demand answers – and accountability – from those politicians, planners, and professional engineers who convinced us that allowing their political benefactors to build shoulder-to-shoulder east of A-1-A on a fragile barrier island – directly on top of the stabilizing dunes and coastal vegetation – represented the “highest and best” use of that natural coastal erosion control system now that our worst fears have been realized.    

And in the view of shellshocked residents who are watching their homes consumed by the sea, it is time for our elected and appointed officials take immediate steps to protect and preserve what remains of our most precious natural resource as the clock ominously ticks toward the next monster. . .

9 thoughts on “A Trial by Fire

  1. Why would anyone build or buy a home with 500 feet of the ocean? Why do people live in a river floodplain?
    And yet insurance companies continue to give these residents checks to rebuild.

    My home insurance and flood premiums are going to rebuild homes that will be damaged in 3-5 years?

    Sorry, a hero who is one who gave up their life in servitude of others.

    Why was there a huge police presence on A1A removing people from huge condo complexes deemed “Unsafe” by a building official? Why is my tax money going toward police overtime usurping their responsibilities?
    Why were the bridges closed and manned by checkpoints?
    These condo complexes never lost power and were never damaged. I call for an investigation. Where were our elected leaders when 150 police were removing homeowners from safe buildings? If I was a leader, I would be right on scene urging everyone slow down here.
    And yet yesterday, after people started to return to their homes in in these towers, the chief safety officer of one on the cities either Wilbur or Shores is calling for police and ambulance not to respond to 911 calls from these buildings. He has no authority what so ever to prohibit responses from 911 entities.

    Jeff Brower, where are you?
    County commissioner ofr the A1A area, where are you?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The sheriff controls 911 and has been on TV multiple times in support of what is going on. Brower has literally nothing to do with it.


    2. The “chief safety officer ” should be FIRED, right now! What say his boss?
      Why wasn’t our County Clowncil on beachside touring lockstep with our Governor?


      1. William we need fed money like Katrina.Where the hell do you think local politicians can handle all this.You want blame .Blame those who did not properly inspect old houses,condos and hotels.If thats not good enough talk to Dade County and find out why no one checked their condo crash..Old homes built on sand when the beach was a hundred yards further into the ocean.Took a ride down Riverside to Main Street bridge from Granada today very few docks left.Get it into your head that anyone who builds on sand is a moron.No building on the beach should be allowed because in the future there will be no Daytona Beachside or Flagler or St.Augustine.

        Liked by 1 person

  2.  Dig deep my friend,  Mr. Glenn Storch got the Coastal Construction set back line moved westward in New Smyrna Beach several years ago. 


  3. We dont want another Miami.Chitwood is doing the best he can.Cops are checking out buildings that can collapse and kill them.Problem is decades of old buildings being abused by the salt ,ocean and overly high tides that do not have concrete pilings on buildings.See the picture of the pool hanging with metal poles holding it up.I was not a climate change believer but I believe in cycles.Last hurricane in November was 1985.Allstate will not insure my home a half mile from I95 and Granada too close to the water.Homes and high rises dont belong on a beach that maybe not in my lifetime will have the ocean meeting the Halifax and rebuilding roads every year on A1A in Flagler.That area is history.You have one billion in damage from 2 storms and no matter whatt local government does like get people off the beach when a hurricane hits people are still moving back into condemned high rises today as their neighbors have 2 hours to remove their property.Dont pick on cops as they do a job you wont do.They risk their lives during this shit.Feds are needed not local yokals to make big decisions.Lots of building may stop from Miami to Jacksonville.Marc got a beef call Biden and get all that Ukraine money back here for us.This is beyond even state government.Fed money rebuilt after Katrina.You may not be able to find an insurance comany next year that will sell homeowners insurance in Florida.


  4. My idea will be unpopular, more more practical than many will admit.
    I would move toward a moratorium on any new building east of A1A, Ask FEMA to step in and offer a fair price for the existing properties, demolish them and return the land to Mother Nature. Allow repairs where feasible, with the understanding that there will no further assistance other than normal basic services. Next time they get major damage, they fix it on their own. I imagine it will require an establishment of a different tax district.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Disasters scream for effective Public Information. You spent a career in law enforcement. I spent two careers in Public Affairs. So what do we have in our cities and county performing this function? Promoted from within amateurs and “Yes” men. Majes as much sense as handing me a weapon, badge and patrol car keys.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s