First came Charley. Then Frances. Ivan followed. Jeanne provided the grand finale. These four powerful hurricanes slammed into Florida and points beyond in the United States, starting with Charley in August - a Category 4 storm with winds of more than 140 miles an hour. When it came ashore in southwestern Florida and moved northeast across the state, it tore down thousands of buildings and cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses at the height of a hot and humid summer.

Paul Stalknecht, president and chief executive officer of ACCA, was in Florida making site visits when the storm hit on Aug. 13. "If there is a silver lining in this latest show of force by Mother Nature," he told The News, "it is the strength and resilience shown by the HVACR contractors and technicians in Florida who are working around the clock to service their customers.

"We are receiving countless calls from our members across the nation who are asking if there are ways they can help their fellow contractors down there."

Ken Bodwell, president of the Florida ACCA Chapter and head of Innovative Service Solutions, a 20-employee company based in Orlando, said Charley's winds "literally ripped off screw heads on equipment." Todd Morgan, P.E., president and founder of Comprehensive Energy Services (CES) Inc., a 150-employee company also headquartered in Orlando, told The News he had customers in the eye of the storm.

Hurricane Frances destroyed this fitness room at a Vero Beach Hotel. Central Air Conditioning and Miranda’s Service Co. helped to restore air conditioning and water supply to the building. (Photo by Brian Hargis.)
"We have been facing some interesting challenges, especially in the hardest hit Port Charlotte/Fort Meyers area, where we are responsible for servicing critically needed cell sites that support cellular phone service," he said. "We had employees from Miami coming in to help in Fort Meyers, but the National Guard wouldn't let them in without written proof of the work they were going to do."

Florida's peninsula also was clobbered by Frances and Jeanne, and parts of the state's Panhandle region suffered heavy damage when Hurricane Ivan moved into the Alabama coast.

"Ivan didn't know when to quit," said Gary Beeler of the National Weather Service in Mobile, referring to the damage the storm wrought in southern Alabama's interior counties and the loop-the-loop antics that took it across Florida and back into the Gulf of Mexico.

The hurricane season kept contractors busy in the damaged areas. In the short term, they dealt with getting systems up and running. In the long term, they tried to make sure they protected their employees and businesses from future storms. They also tried to get the word out to customers and potential customers to have patience and be wary of fly-by-nighters seeking to capitalize on the crises.

Many contractors came to the rescue of contractors who were overloaded. For instance, Robert Giancroce, president of Central Air Conditioning, Aiken, Ga., came to the aid of fellow contractor Don Miranda, Miranda's Sales and Service, Fort Pierce, Fla., by sending crews to help Miranda's employees get back on their feet and, in turn, help customers whose electrical and A/C equipment had been damaged by the hurricane.

"Donnie was in trouble, and we wanted to extend our resources to him," said Kevin Heaton, business development manager and vice president for Central Air. "It's not always about the dollar."

Publication date: 12/27/2004