Dale Klonin, a firefighter at Baltimore/Washington International Airport in Baltimore, was off duty and busy running errands last Wednesday when he stumbled upon a chance to save lives.
Klonin, 46, lives in Hampstead, Maryland. As an amateur ham radio operator with an interest in “any news or weather event,” he was keeping an eye and ear on Hurricane Ian.
“Of course, the hurricane was pretty big news,” Klonin told Fox News Digital in a phone interview.
Thinking about family members who live outside Sarasota, Florida, Klonin and his wife “were pretty concerned” about the storm, he said.
Klonin has only been involved with ham radio — also called amateur radio — for about a year, he said.
Ham radio is a popular hobby and service that people all over the world use “to talk across town, around the world or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones,” according to The American Radio Relay League website.
“It’s fun, social, educational and can be a lifeline during times of need,” they note.
Klonin was tuned into several networks, or “nets,” on his ham radio system that morning.
“I had the Florida Emergency and the National Hurricane Center Emergency nets monitored,” he said.
“A net is basically a frequency,” he said. “A bunch of people are just listening in to see if there’s anything going on, and one person acts as a controller. Every 10 minutes, someone comes on, and they’re asking for emergency messages, damage reports and that kind of thing.”
Klonin said that after monitoring the nets for most of the morning, he and his wife went to drop off her car for a tune-up at their regular shop in Hanover, Pennylvania, about 20 minutes away from his home.
That afternoon, he went to retrieve the car.
As Klonin was settling the bill, he and Aly Ruiz, a service adviser, made small talk, he said.
“I said something like, ‘How about this hurricane?’” he said.
Ruiz shared with Klonin that her sister Kelsey, as well as Kelsey’s boyfriend, were on Sanibel Island. “And she said, ‘I haven’t heard from her in four hours,’” Klonin said.
“She showed me pictures [from their texts] — Kelsey’s boyfriend’s truck was completely submerged,” said Klonin, adding that other photos revealed the floodwaters were coming up to the second floor of Kelsey’s boyfriend’s home.
Klonin said that Ruiz told him, “My sister is really stubborn. She wasn’t taking this whole thing seriously. I’m really worried about her.”
Klonin said he answered, “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 and get a message through, or at least let them know that these people might need help.”
Ruiz readily supplied all pertinent numbers for the stranded group, Klonin said, including the number for their Garmin inReach, a satellite communicator.
“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 communication],” Ruiz told Fox News Digital in a phone interview.
“But it was a much bigger deal,” she continued. “He [Klonin] was in contact with people. I don’t think I realized how much he could really help in this situation.”
Klonin, who has an inReach himself for hiking trips, said he uses his when cell phone communication may not be possible.
“Hardly anybody I know has one,” said Klonin, marveling that the group on Sanibel Island did have one.
Klonin began his 20-minute drive home — and during the ride Ruiz texted him, saying her sister had reached out via the inReach. They were “safe, but stranded,” explained Klonin.
“Aly texted me again saying, ‘By the way, there’s eight other people there [in their group on Sanibel] and a dog,'” Klonin said.
“I’ve been a firefighter for 20 some years, and I teach emergency preparedness,” said Klonin.
“And I said, ‘Aly, I don’t think they know how much danger there really is.’”
Asking for a “better idea of where they are,” and knowing that the inReach could supply critical location coordinates, Klonin said he knew his job was not over.
“So, she sent me those, I get on the radio and I call out to the Florida emergency net — and that controller comes back and acknowledges me,” he said.
“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 continued.
The Florida emergency net took all the information, said Klonin, and they in turn “brought up another station who took all the information, too,’” he added.
He continued, “Florida State Emergency Operation Center called back and asked for more information” — and Klonin was soon emailing all the needed information over to them.
“Before I was even done talking on the radio, the authorities knew exactly where they were,” he said.
“We continued offline, and I sent screenshots of all the text messages, and then Aly texted me.”
He continued, “She said, ‘They’re OK. The authorities are texting with them.’”
Klonin said people should know that ham radio operators are out there listening — and that they care.
“You know, ham radio operators do so much behind the scenes, and they never get any credit,” he said.
“How do you think the Cajun Navy gets their locations, in order to rescue people? Often, it is someone communicating on a ham radio.”
He added, “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 said that before she knew her sister was safe, the situation had her “wildly upset and scared.”
She said, “I think that Dale could feel that, with him being a paramedic and a firefighter for so long — and he just turned to action.”
She added, “I didn’t ask him to do any of that. He offered. And he was in direct contact with me all night on Wednesday, back and forth, between not only just my family, but friends of my sisters who needed help and were looking for family and friends that had been on the island.”
Klonin’s wife has also been “wonderful,” said Ruiz.
“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.”
“He just jumped into action, which is obviously in his character.”
Deirdre Reilly is a senior editor in Lifestyle with Fox News Digital.