Ron Erbel, a founding member of Key Biscayne’s fire department who became the organization’s unofficial “ambassador,” died Saturday night after a long battle with cancer, Village officials said. He was 70.
“He cared, and he cared for the good of the organization, not the individual,” said John C. Gilbert, a former Village manager and a long-time friend and colleague. He said Erbel often would be the public face of the department when the going got tough. “He was the ambassador that I needed,” he said.
Erbel started as a volunteer firefighter on Key Biscayne before the 1993 founding of the department, where he was one of its original members. He was part of the urban search and rescue team that went to New York City after the 9/11 attacks, an event that brought into focus the long-term hazards of toxic materials facing firefighters. In 2019, Erbel’s case was the focus of a compensation resolution before the Village Council.
Firefighting was his passion.
“I don’t think I’ll ever hang up my fire hat,” he said at the time of his 2019 retirement. He said his most memorable call was delivering his own daughter on his living room floor. Along the way, he found time to build a beekeeping business with his spouse, Victoria, and continued to be as active as his health permitted.
“A core of the Key is no longer with us,” said Mayor Mike Davey. “I’ve been thinking of all things he’s done. It’s another tremendous loss for our community.”
Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.