HAM Radio 101

Heroic Ham Dale Klonin, KC3TAU, Saves Lives on Sanibel Island During Hurricane Ian

Dale Klonin, KC3TAU, a firefighter from Hampstead, Maryland, and ham with less than a year of experience found himself in the unique position to help save lives on September 28 as Hurricane Ian raked a path of destruction across Florida’s gulf coast and other parts of the country.

With a self-described interest in “any news or weather event” and family residing just outside of Sarasota, Florida, the 46-year-old Klonin kept an ear to the Florida Emergency and National Hurricane Center nets on the morning of September 28 to keep abreast of storm developments. He later took a short respite to go with his wife to a nearby mechanic to drop her car off for a tune-up. The errand was uneventful.

However, upon his return later in the day to retrieve the vehicle, Klonin made small talk with service advisor Aly Ruiz, asking only, “How about this hurricane?” A simple question—only four words, asked in passing with no expectation, and perhaps, to some, even rhetorical—but one that in this situation would ultimately save lives. 

Ruiz’s sister, Kelsey, was on Sanibel Island with her boyfriend during the storm, and Ruiz hadn’t heard from her in over four hours. Ruiz was concerned—and rightly so. The storm would leave the Florida island in shambles with homes ruined, the causeway (and only island entrance) impassible, and residents and visitors stranded in rising waters with limited food supplies, if any. 

As detailed in an interview on Fox News Digital, Ruiz told Klonin, “My sister is really stubborn. She wasn’t taking this whole thing seriously. I’m really worried about her.” She then went on to show Klonin images from her cell phone from her last communication with Kelsey. Klonin said, “Kelsey’s boyfriend’s truck was completely submerged,” and other photos showed floodwaters enveloping the second story of the home. 

So, Klonin did what any ham would do— he helped out. 

Klonin reassured Ruiz saying, “You know what? I’m an amateur radio operator. I’ve been listening to these networks all morning. Some of the emergency operation centers are listening. Let me try to get a message through, or at least let them know that these people might need help.”

Ruiz, of course, agreed, supplying Klonin with phone numbers and the number for the couple’s Garmin inReach, a satellite communicator that Klonin also possessed, and a tool that could supply coordinates for a rescue. But Ruiz was still unaware just how helpful this off-duty firefighting ham would soon prove to be. 

“I initially just thought, ‘if something bad were to happen or even something good, you know, if someone picks them up, they would know that they were being looked for and get back in touch with us,’” (through Ham radio), Ruiz told Fox News Digital. “But it was a much bigger deal. He was in contact with people. I don’t think I realized how much he could really help in this situation,” said Ruiz. 

Good news soon followed. During Klonin’s drive back from the repair shop, he was contacted by Ruiz who had received word that both boyfriend and sister were alive but stranded with a group of eight additional people and a dog. 

Klonin told Ruiz, “I’ve been a firefighter for 20-some years, and I teach emergency preparedness. I don’t think that they know how much danger there really is.” He asked for a “better idea of where they were”—knowing that the inReach that they carried could provide specific coordinates to make rescue much easier. Once received, Klonin went to work.

“I get on the radio, and I call out to the Florida Emergency net—and that controller comes back and acknowledges me,” said Klonin. “And I said, ‘Hey, I have someone here in Maryland, and they are receiving messages from their loved ones on Sanibel Island—the island is destroyed, their house is battered, and it’s flooding. They may need possible rescue,’” Klonin recalled. 

“The Florida Emergency net took all the information” then “brought up another station who took all the information, too,” Klonin said. The Florida State Emergency Operation Center called back and asked for more information, as well, and Klonin, again, shared the details. 

“Before I was even done talking on the radio, the authorities knew exactly where they were,” said Klonin. 

Moments later, Ruiz texted Klonin, letting him know that her family, the group of eight additional people, and the, obviously, much-loved pooch were all in the process of being rescued. “She said, ‘They’re okay. The authorities are texting with them,’” said Klonin.

He continued, “You know, ham radio operators do so much behind the scenes, and they never get any credit. Usually, the ham radio operators after a disaster are the ones that are getting in there, and through their networks, getting all the information until the authorities can get there. They do this out of the kindness of their hearts,” he said. 

Ruiz recalled that before she found out that her sister was safe, she was “wildly upset and scared.” She continued, “I think Dale could feel that, with him being a paramedic and firefighter for so long—and he just turned to action. I didn’t ask him to do any of that. He offered. He’s taken a lot of time to be helping these people so far away, you know? And he’s doing this out of his own kindness.”

Klonin would like the public to know that ham radio operators are out there listening—and that they care. 

See Klonin, Ruiz, and snippets of the rescue in this video supplied by WGAL 8 News.

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