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Fire-Rescue Foundation event raises funds for those devastated by Hurricane Michael

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For the second year in a row, the chili cookoff was all about hurricanes.

Last year, the Jerry Adams Chili Cookoff put on by the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Foundation took place barely a month after Hurricane Irma, when firefighters, emergency medical technicians and administrative staff of the MIFD stayed on duty as the storm made a direct hit on Marco Island, coming out of the Gulf of Mexico as a category 3 major hurricane.

This year’s cookoff was held just 10 days after an even stronger Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle. Fire-Rescue Foundation president Dianna Dohm said that Marco firefighters opted to give all their proceeds from the event to the families of small-town firefighters in the affected area.

“A lot of those first responders lost their homes, yet they’re still out there helping their neighbors. In those small towns, the fire departments, along with the churches, are the heart of the community,” said Dohm. “The firefighters came to me and said, ‘we know you do this all for us, but this year, we’d like to send the dollars to our brothers up north.’”

She credited Firefighter Hafid Oliver, head chef for the department’s entry in the cookoff, with spearheading the decision to forego receiving the funds. When the MIFD’s chili, an obvious crowd favorite at Saturday’s cookoff, took top honors in the Fire/Municipal category people’s choice award, the team opted to turn their $200 check back to the foundation as well.

Oliver and fellow chef Juan Cabezas said their chili is essentially the same as prepared in the firehouse for many years by deceased firefighter Jerry Adams, the namesake of the cookoff.

“The basis is Jerry’s recipe – we’re trying to pass it on,” said Oliver, who did say they “tweaked it” a little.

Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murhpy said he was in contact with fire chiefs in northern Florida, as well as working through Collier County’s fire department strike team, which has sent personnel to help with recovery efforts, to identify recipients for the funds they are donating. Last year, the Fire-Rescue Foundation presented a $1,000 check to each local firefighter in recognition of their work after Hurricane Irma.

With the weather anything but “chilly” four weeks into autumn, approximately 650 came out to the Esplanade on Saturday to “feel the heat” and sample the offerings of 18 different chili chefs. Contestants in the individual competition included candidates for city council and county judge in the upcoming election, along with the “Spice Girls Cooking Club,” but first place went, for the third year in a row, to Cheryl Stokes of Marketplace Home Mortgage.

Stokes offered to divulge the secret recipe for her chili, adding “but then I’d have to kill you.” She did say it includes three meats, five vegetables and six spices.

The Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort, recently reopened after a long closure for repairs and revamping, won first place in the restaurant category. Executive chef Cory Hepburn brought 12 gallons of their turkey chili, made with heirloom beans, and served with Irish whiskey cheddar and pumpkin crema.

The San Marco Knights of Columbus took first place among civic groups. Best in Show, awarded by judges including restaurateurs Joey Oliverio and Laura Owen, along with city council Chairman Jared Grifoni, went to the Sullivan’s Brigade, who brought their own antique fire engine, complete with the traditional Dalmatian, to the event.

CJ’s on the Bay and Siegel Dental topped the list of sponsors, donating at the “Chief Level.” The Ben Allen Band returned to provide a musical bed for the event, and emcee Steve Reynolds said he wanted to have the Pepto-Bismol concession.

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