Fort Myers Beach Fire Dept. Acquires Masks


It is always “Safety First” for the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, but the shortage of Personal Protection Equipment due to the COVID-19 pandemic led it to think outside the box, and that is where a longtime Sanibel restaurant came into play!

“A few weeks ago, when the coronavirus was really starting to hit the United States, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) put out its recommendation that people wear protective masks anytime they leave their house, for errands like going to the store or purchasing gasoline,” recalled Ron Martin, the Executive Assistant Chief of Life Safety & Support Services for the FMB Fire Department. “At that time, however, there were no N95 or surgical masks to be found, and even the materials to make them on your own were scarce. Shortly thereafter, I saw a news article about Brian and Elke Podlasek, the owners of The Island Cow Restaurant on Sanibel. They and their two daughters were sewing protective masks to donate to healthcare workers, local police and fire departments, and frontline workers in this pandemic emergency. I found their contact information and said the FMB Fire Department needed 65 face masks for our non-emergency situations and they came through with that donation! It turns out that they live in the FMB Fire Department district, and their masks are a Godsend!”

FMB Fire Dept Acquire Maskes from Island Cow
Some of the FMBFD crew with their new donated face covers. Photos provided.

Chief Martin emphasized, “Our crews do not wear these masks when they respond to emergency situations, but sport the CDC-approved ones. The masks from ‘The Island Cow’ are strictly for our non-emergency times, but by having these, we do not have to waste the precious superior ones for routine duties. That said, the Podlasek masks are awesome and way better than anything we could make in our own homes from things like old t-shirts! They are high quality and take the additional step of including some N95 material sewn into each one, for greater protection, and some even have American Flags on them, so I heartily recommend them to our beach community friends.”

In addition to the Podlasek masks, the FMB Fire Department recently received a second similar donation, reported Chief Martin. “Last week, Sue Rowan, a seamstress at the Lani Kai Island Resort, donated a large bag of facecovers, so thanks to her and the Podlaseks, we now actually have a reserve amount.”

The facecover donations by the Podlaseks and Rowan really highlight the positive side of tough times like these, he related. “We see this time and again, whenever something unfortunate happens around here, and that is what is great, not only about our own local community, but throughout Florida and the nation, and that makes me so proud! That support, especially to the healthcare community and first responders, is what will get us all through this together. The FMB Fire Department is so proud of our local community, and we could not be more grateful for the generosity of our citizens!”

Crazy Hot Rod Sewing Machine

“My wife Elke, who is the head elf around here, has a crazy hot rod of a sewing machine,” enthused Brian Podlasek, The Island Cow owner, in explaining how the restaurant got into the facemask business. “She uses it for many things, like for retail associated with the restaurant. We know a number of Lee Health doctors and nurses, and one told us they were running out of masks, and Elke said, ‘I think I can make those!’ A friend of ours secured a donation of material similar to what professionals use in the N95 masks, and the next thing you knew, we had a sort-of assembly line going on in our house, along with the help of several of our daughters’ friends from Canterbury School, who were doing parts from their own houses, such as cutting the material into small segments.”

There was a bit of trial & error in the beginning, Brian explained, “but now they have it down to an exact science, where Elke and our daughters Amanda and Kristina sew them, put in the protective filter, bag it, and get it out. They streamlined the process, to really pick up the pace, and are finishing them much quicker. I may have to turn my pool table into a permanent sewing table and set up my bar as a coffee station to keep everyone awake! They are not only great masks, but reusable; just take out the filter and chuck them into the washing machine,” he said. “The only masks available online are the cow-print décor. For the medical folks and first responders who often request between 20 to 100 masks, those come in whatever material is available to us at that time, so those may be a mixture of colors as well as prints like jalapeño peppers and daisies, so it is hit & miss on that.”

While their initial masks were just for donations to healthcare workers and first responders, “so many other people require them as well,” Brian offered, “and even though mask availability is better now, there is still a great deal of need for them, so now we are offering some for sale. Folks need them to run their businesses as well as to just go out and do their necessary errands, like going to the grocery store, so you can go online at or give us a call at 239-848-5533. The price per mask in $14.95 including the filter and shipping, with an order limit of four. The telephone number became a necessity when we discovered how many of our neighbors, particularly senior citizens, do not have an online capability, so call and give us your address and we will get those out to you as soon as we can. This turned into quite the project, and we will continue to do them as long as there is a need, so I feel really sorry for our mailman!”