West Coast Surf Shop employees honored for bravery

Holmes Beach surf shop fire award Mayor
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson shakes hands with each of the three employees who helped keep themselves and shoppers safe when the West Coast Surf Shop caught fire. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – A fire at the West Coast Surf Shop on April 15 turned staff members Kaitlin Kee, Anna Rehorn and Benjamin Webb from store clerks into heroes when they not only got themselves out of the burning building but also evacuated an estimated 30 patrons.

During the May 22 city commission meeting, Holmes Beach city leaders, along with police Chief Bill Tokajer and members of the West Manatee Fire Rescue district recognized the three for their bravery and quick thinking during the emergency situation.

“Because of their efforts they saved lives,” Tokajer said.

Holmes Beach Surf Shop fire award West Manatee Fire Rescue
West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Tom Sousa congratulates the staff of West Coast Surf Shop on their bravery in evacuating the store during a fire emergency. – Kristin Swain | Sun

Fire Marshall Jim Davis, reading from Kee’s statement to officials on the day of the fire, said the smoke, believed to be caused by a faulty transformer on a neon light in a window, was first reported to staff by a customer. Upon investigation, the staff of three called 911 and evacuated the building as flames began and smoke started filling the shop. The staff and patrons were not injured. The upstairs apartment was not inhabited at the time of the fire.

“If not for them, it would’ve definitely been a different story,” Davis said.

Once on the scene, it took firefighters about two minutes to fully extinguish the fire. Damage was sustained to the shop’s exterior, the store and the shop’s inventory, which had just been restocked. Damage was estimated at $250,000.

The West Coast Surf Shop is the oldest surf shop on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Owners Jim and Ronee Brady are currently in the process of making repairs to the shop with the hope of reopening in about six months.

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