On August 31st, as Hurricane Irma turned its eye toward Key West, our local community manager Rick Haskins experienced a moment of clarity amidst the approaching storm. The coming days would see him leave his precious island as well as his mother, father, sister and brother behind to lead an exodus of Vacasa employees to safety on the mainland.
Upon his return to a devastated Key West, Rick would help with relief efforts and provide housing for first responders. He would be deputized amidst gale-force winds and later celebrated by Key West’s Chief of Police, who recently published a Facebook post reading, “There has been no greater supporter to the KWPD after Hurricane Irma than Rick Haskins.”
Rick’s actions before and after the disaster show what true community leadership is all about. We’re proud to share his story with you.
Rick is a multi-generation Conch (Key West resident) who spends his working hours exploring new business opportunities for Vacasa and maintaining relationships with the nearly 250 vacation rental homeowners whose properties we look after on the archipelago.
After Irma ravaged Cuba and turned its eye toward Key West, Rick sent an update to Vacasa HQ and homeowners informing us all that things had turned from serious to severe. Then he did what those of us who know Rick would say is the unthinkable: He began knocking on doors and telling people it was time to evacuate.
“I went to my next-door neighbor, then the next house, and just kept going,” says Rick. “I was knocking on all the doors and saying, ‘you gotta go. It’s gonna be deadly.’ Somebody said, ‘you’re giving us good reasons to leave, why don’t they apply to you?’”
Key West locals are used to hurricane scares. They don’t abandon their island lightly. Even among this resolute community, Rick is known as the guy who stays. He’s the rock who weathers storms. And he planned on staying this time, too—until he began contacting his local team, many of whom refused to leave unless he evacuated as well.
“I offered one of them a truck and told her to get her family out, but she refused to go unless I went too,” says Rick. “It was fair. The dangers were real, and leaving was the right thing to do.”
Rick acquiesced, and, after posting his decision on Facebook, over 30 residents responded to say that if he was going, they were leaving as well. But Rick couldn’t convince everyone to evacuate.
“My mom said she’d rather die at home in the storm with my father than leave. In the last communication I had with my brother, he told me that he and my sister had no intention of leaving our parents. I had to leave my family behind. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Final evacuation calls in the Keys typically come 48-72 hours earlier than they do in other cities because residents have to traverse the island chain to get out—a process that can require crossing 42 wind-rocked bridges and negotiating 124 miles of detritus-riddled highway.
Rick and his crew and their families successfully evacuated Key West. They drove to Winter Park, where in a beautifully ironic twist of fate, John and Connie Manasco, two of our homeowners whose property Rick manages, put 10 of them up in their actual home. Just a few miles away, Ken Schultz, a real estate broker Rick knows from Key West, offered to host the rest of the housekeeping and maintenance staff who evacuated with Rick.
Returning to Key West after a hurricane can be as onerous as trying to get out during one, which is another reason so many permanent residents of the destination community are reluctant to evacuate unless absolutely necessary. The day after dropping off the crew, despite what was sure to be a gruelling return trip, Rick headed for home.
He and the husband of one of our staff who manages Key West’s popular Sunrise Suites Resort, drove white-knuckled through the declining gale toward unknown territory, not knowing what still remained of their homes, family, and friends. Flying detritus and 100-mph winds battered Rick’s SUV, forcing the pair to stop intermittently along the way for shelter.
They managed to arrive safely at the first checkpoint, where they joined a line of vehicles hauling passengers back to a devastated Key West. Rick helped work the checkpoint while awaiting clearance to pass, exchanging nods of solidarity with other Conchs returning to their own unknowns.
Officers at the checkpoint deputized him so he could assist them in an official capacity. Communications systems were available, and Rick was able to contact his brother, who informed him that everyone in Rick’s family had survived the storm.
When Rick eventually crossed through the checkpoint, he found a ghost town on the other side. Winds whipped and evidence of destruction abounded. The familiar roads and neighborhoods were eerily quiet and empty but for all the boats and sheds and seaweed, which pockmarked the landscape in gigantic mutilated heaps.
At the checkpoint, he had taken on new passengers, including the director of Key West’s Wildlife Center. They stopped to rescue some birds at the Wildlife Center and attempted to locate a Vacasa employee who had stayed behind. Upon confirming his staff’s safety, the career hospitality and real estate professional prepared himself for the reality that his livelihood may have been blown away in the storm.
“The damage was surreal. There was a point driving down the Keys where I thought there may be nothing left. Some of the houses we brought on just a couple of months ago are missing—I mean, completely gone. That’s when it hit home for me just how bad it was.”
Rick describes his first night back as the scariest. His home had remained one of the fortunate few left relatively untouched by the hurricane. In the absence of city lights, darkness reigned and for the first time in his life, Rick witnessed stars igniting the tropical sky over his hometown. If the circumstances had been different, say, without the sounds of looting, shooting, and confusion a few blocks away, he says, it might have been beautiful.
The next day, after getting power back to Sunrise Suites, a 74-bed resort that we manage in Key West, Rick drove to the Emergency Operations Center, where first responders were sleeping in offices, on floors, and in cars. He offered them fresh beds in air-conditioned rooms. By the end of the day, the resort was bustling with police officers, members of the fire department, and even Key West’s Chief of Nurses.
After helping the new guests get settled, Rick went to work assessing the damage to our homeowners’ properties—and helping fellow Key West residents along the way.
“As I was driving to homes, I stopped every person and said, ‘does your family know you’re okay?’ Vacasa had given me a Garmin satellite communicator that enables text messaging from anywhere in the world. It’s how I was sending communications to HQ. If the people I stopped hadn’t spoken with their families, I’d text whoever they wanted me to via this device. I must have sent 100 messages for people that day.”
Three of our staff in Key West lost everything. Rick put them up immediately. Our remaining staff trickled in to join them and the first responders at Sunrise Suites until their homes were repaired and had power.
We supported Rick and his team from Vacasa HQ in Portland any way we could, including taking on all guest communications and offering refunds to guests whose Key West trips were thwarted by Irma.
September is a typically slow tourist month in Key West. You’d think the hurricane would have made it a no-tourist month this year. But after the winds subsided, guests almost immediately began reaching out to Rick asking if they could still stay at homes in Key West and help with cleanup.
Key West Homeowners with units in Sunrise Suites were overwhelming supportive of Rick’s decision to offer units to law enforcement and displaced Vacasa employees. That’s because they trust him to do the right thing. Rick is a rock who helps everyone weather storms.
Rick and the rest of our Key West team worked double-time to get their laundry and general maintenance operations up and running for the first responders. Because of this, they had something of a head start and were able to get our entire Key West operation open for business by September 20th, just a few weeks after the storm touched down and before the town even officially re-opened.
“After a hurricane, it’s important to get back to business as normal so everything else can return to normal,” says Rick. “And today feels like a pretty normal day.”
From homeowners sharing their units with first responders to guests offering their services as volunteers, the devastation of Hurricane Irma has given rise to many stories of genuine human goodness. We’re honored to celebrate one of our own for his contributions.
Thanks, Rick. Your actions in Key West inspire us all to exemplify true community leadership when it matters most.