CHARLOTTE COUNTY — Thanks to Firehouse Subs in Port Charlotte, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office has a new cargo hook on its AS350 helicopter, allowing a quicker response for brush fires and other rescue operations.

At a cost of $15,000, the hook was paid for by grant money from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, which comes mainly from spare change.

“When people come into the restaurant, we ask them to round up their change,” said Kim Clouden, who owns the Port Charlotte franchise with her husband, Russell. “It doesn’t seem like much, but it really adds up, especially over six years.”

The hook allows the attachment of a Bambi Bucket on the bottom of the helicopter which Chief Pilot Shane Engelauf dips into area lakes and ponds before dropping the water over the flames.

Previously, only the Huey helicopter was set up for fire suppression with a belly tank. Engelauf would have to return to the hangar and switch helicopters before going out to assist fire crews. The Bambi Bucket adds a second helicopter and alternate method to the available fleet, ensuring one helicopter is always available.

Engelhauf said his response time will be about an hour quicker.

“A lot of times it gets a while to get Forestry involved,” he said. “It’s real helpful to be able to hit the head of a fire and slow it down. “

Deputy Fire Chief Jason Fair said in perfect fire conditions, every bit of time helps.

“Whenever we have a fire, and it’s starting to expand, the units on the ground have to go through the terrain in order to get to it, so that can be time consuming,” he said. “With the helicopter, they’re able to get there quicker to at least stop that growth, kind of slow it down a little bit until those ground units can get there and put it actually out.”

Russell Clouden said Firehouse Subs' nonprofit arm has awarded grants to many police and fire departments in the area, providing everything from ballistic shield to K9s, boots, fire suppression apparatus, air tanks, scuba gear, and smoke detectors with carbon monoxide detectors.

“When you come in and you buy a sub, you’re not only supporting the community, you’re helping save lives, because that money’s going back to the community,” said Russell. “It’s a good feeling. You know, there’s so many bad things going on nowadays. It feels good to do good things and know that you’re helping the community in a positive way.”

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