Soon after Hurricane Michael
struck the Gulf Coast last October, Senior Multiline Representative David Cleckler—who normally works out of Nashville, Tennessee—was there to assist the National Catastrophe Response Team (NCRT) as a Special Lines salvage liaison. His job was to evaluate salvaged vehicles from our storm claims and decide if they could be preserved and re-sold, and if so, he managed the mobile detailing company and mechanic shop that worked on them.
“On the second Saturday of my rotation at the salvage yard, a nearby fire department—Liberty Fire and Rescue—was there training with some equipment that’s used to stabilize overturned vehicles,” David says. “I was once a volunteer firefighter myself, so after my lunch break I stopped by and before long, we were all chatting and sharing ‘war stories’ from our most memorable calls. Then their assistant chief, Tony Roy, asked me about my role with Progressive.”
That’s when David learned that Liberty Fire and Rescue’s territory covers about 90 square miles filled with lakes, rivers, and creeks, and that they make a point of covering an even wider area to help neighboring first responders out during emergencies. Due to the coastal terrain and extreme weather events like Hurricane Michael, they do several water rescues each year—all without having their own boat.
“I asked what they do in those situations, and Chief Roy said they either have to go door to door to see if someone’s willing to loan them their boat, or wait for the Department of Natural Resources to respond,” David says. “Both of those options take valuable time. Basically, that time could be the difference between a rescue and a recovery effort.”
A boat had been on Liberty’s wish list for at least 10 years, but as a volunteer unit their funds were limited. Chief Roy at first asked David about purchasing a salvaged boat at a reduced price.
“I took them to our holding area at the salvage yard, and they pointed out a few boat types that would be the most useful for them. I was surprised at how simple their needs were,” David says. “They weren’t looking for something fancy with a center console and twin engines, just something small with a shallow draft and a wide platform that would be maneuverable in rivers and creeks. I told them I’d see what I could do.”
Seeing how dedicated Chief Roy and his team are to their surrounding communities, David wanted to see if Progressive could aim a little higher and refurbish and donate a salvaged boat, Keys to Progress® style. He immediately started making calls to our Special Lines process and product teams, Legal, Claims, the NCRT, and Marketing. Everyone thought it was a great idea and helped David work behind the scenes to make it happen.
“We got buy-in from our Product team to not only cover the cost of the boat, but also to fully repair and service its engine so that it would be fully functional and water-ready,” David explains. “Marketing helped us produce a logo for the boat that would be visible, but not disruptive to Liberty’s own emergency logos and decals. The NCRT worked diligently to resolve some title issues with the boat we identified—a Mako Skiff with a Mercury 50-horsepower outboard motor. And, as part of my post-Michael salvage work, I had already been working with a couple of vendors that we use to clean up and preserve high-value salvage items, so I was able to simply present them with our intentions for the boat, and they completed the clean-up and repairs without any issues.”
So, after a lot of behind-the-scenes conference calls and leg work, Marketing’s Public Relations team organized a ribbon-cutting ceremony as David and members of Special Lines leadership presented the newly-refurbished boat on Feb 13.
And, true to the nature of the job, an emergency call came in … right after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. It being February, the boat wasn’t needed for this call, so it’ll have to wait a little longer for its maiden voyage.
“At the ceremony, we all felt like neighbors,” David recalls. “When the emergency call came in, they offered us the opportunity to ride along in the fire trucks—and believe me, we were tempted! Unfortunately, our flight was leaving soon, so we didn’t have the time.”
David has been in contact with Chief Roy since then, and he says the entire department has been busy installing extra lights, sirens, decals and life-saving equipment on board. They plan on using the boat for any water accidents, drownings, search-and-rescues, evacuations, and just about any other emergencies when water is involved. Best of all, since several neighboring communities—some even across the border in Alabama—also do water rescues, they’ll be able to use the boat to help there, too.
“This deployment marked a lot of firsts for me,” David adds. “It was the first time I’d been to this part of Florida, and once I started working on the boat donation, it was also the first time I had worked directly with folks from Marketing and Legal. Everyone was extremely supportive of this idea, which goes to show you what a great company Progressive is. I’m just happy we were able to make a difference for these first responders, who often don’t get the credit—and support—they deserve. Hopefully that boat will serve them well for many years to come.”