CAT donates equipment to disaster response group

Feb. 17, 2014 @ 05:36 PM

Tad Agoglia's second visit to Lee County was much less stressful than his first.

Agoglia, founder of the nonprofit natural disaster response group First Response Team of America, was in Sanford on Monday to receive the first of two new pieces of machinery that the local Caterpillar plant is donating to his team.

Agoglia and his team were last in town in in April of 2011, helping locals pick up the pieces of their lives after a tornado devastated the area and killed two people. He said that with Caterpillar's newest donation — one skid-steer track loader was donated Monday, and another will be built and donated in the coming months — his work can be done more confidently because of the quality of the machinery.

"When we show up to a disaster site and meet the storm survivors, the last thing we need is for something to go wrong with our equipment," he said.

Agoglia started out in disaster relief as owner of a for-profit company that came into areas weeks after a disaster had struck to help clean up. But in his late 20s, he said Monday to a group of about 30 Caterpillar employees, he decided to fold his company and volunteer his services. He formed a small team and has traveled around the country helping communities reeling from tornadoes, floods and other disasters since 2007.

But after a while, he said, the cost of volunteering started creeping up. Caterpillar was his first major corporate donor, giving him equipment which he said was tested here in Sanford before being given to him in 2008.

However, Monday's donation is the first equipment he has received that was built in Sanford, and he asked the employees to feel some personal pride whenever they see his team in the news.

Agoglia has frequently been in the national spotlight, having been named a CNN Hero in 2008 and then following that up with several other public service awards and recognitions.

"It's a real honor to be here today to share our story, as well as to receive this piece of equipment," he said Monday, adding that loaders like the brand new models he's receiving from Caterpillar are the front line of his group's work — often the first piece of machinery sent in to clear debris and carry in other heavy pieces of equipment like lights and generators.

And while this is the first time Caterpillar in Sanford has donated equipment to First Response Team of America, it's not the first time the plant has helped Agoglia's team. Keri Cole, the plant's manager for compact loader business, said Monday that after the tornado, Agoglia called the plant asking for help and got so much feedback he actually had to turn volunteers away.

"Tad called and asked if we could send 20 people, and any equipment we had," Cole said. "We had about 100 people volunteer."