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HomeIsland LifeHundreds say farewell to Ron Erbel, firefighter, family man, and friend

Hundreds say farewell to Ron Erbel, firefighter, family man, and friend

More than 300 people gathered Saturday to mourn Ron Erbel, a man whom just about everyone on Key Biscayne knew, but in strikingly different ways. For the honor guard and those in a procession of fire trucks on village streets, he was the hero firefighter who responded to 9/11, contracting the cancer that would take his life.  

To others, he was the guy who climbed trees or mowed grass. Perhaps he was the beekeeper, or the barterer, always there with what one needed. 

He represented the “cornerstone to this community,” said one of his daughters, Jennifer Hardison. 

Victoria Jackson, widow of Key Biscayne firefighter Ron Erbel, carries his ashes in a procession of fire-rescue vehicles on village streets. Grandchildren rode in a vintage fire truck that Erbel helped restore. More than 300 gathered to mourn Erbel, a founding member of the island’s fire department. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

“My dad really was Key Biscayne’s guy,” Hardison told the overflow gathering at Key Biscayne Community Church, as family members placed hands on her shoulders for support. “Dad had this way of making people feel seen and known. And that’s why he’s the first guy you remember meeting.”

Wiping away tears, another daughter, Ashley Erbel-Sumon, read a poem and thanked attendees for their compassion and love. 

“Thank you for showing me and for telling me just how special he was,” she said. “I was raised by a legend. This honors me and my family. This makes me feel so special.” 

“I will miss Ron terribly,” said his widow, Victoria Jackson. “But Ron grew tired. He told me it was time for him to go home. After he took his last breath here on Earth, we knew his next breath would be in the presence of our Almighty Father.” 

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Erbel was a member of a search and rescue task force that mobilized after the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. He spent 17 days searching the rubble, and was exposed to toxic conditions that later led to the cancer that would claim his life, said Fire Chief Eric Lang.  

Ashley Erbel-Sumon, Jennifer Hardison, and Jesse Erbel remember their father, Ron Erbel, at memorial service, Saturday May 7, 2022 (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

The experience led Erbel to fight for better protections and assistance for first responders. 

“Ron was passionate about mental health. And about helping responders process the traumas that we collect through the years of emergencies in everyday life,” Lang said.  

Walter Dix, district vice president of the International Association of Firefighters, presented a  line of duty death award, the highest honor associated with the organization. Erbel served for 26 years as a career firefighter, and seven as a volunteer firefighter. Dix noted that firefighter occupational cancer is the leading cause of line of duty deaths in the fire service.  

The memorial ended with the tolling of a firehouse bell, as a final radio call was played:

“Firefighter Ron Erbel has completed his task. His duties were well done, and we bid you farewell now on your last alarm.”

More than 300 people mourn Ron Erbel at the Key Biscayne Community Church, Saturday. May 7, 2022. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

Erbel is also by survived by brother David Ralph Erbel, sisters Lennette Ulrich and Adele Fredenburg, and nine grandchildren.

The family has asked those wishing to remember Erbel contribute to the Ron Erbel Fund for Firefighters, established by the Key Biscayne Community Foundation 

Tony Winton contributed to this report.

Theo Miller
Theo Miller
Theo Miller is an intern reporter specializing in education, technology, politics, and the impacts those have on schools both on and off the Key. He is a graduate of MAST Academy. In Key Biscayne, he works in production with Crossbridge Church and the Anti-Social radio podcast, Often described as a full-time nerd, when he is not writing or in school, he loves cameras, cars, cooking, and cartoons.
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