A candidate for County Commissioner in Sumter County takes shots has his incumbant opponent who has been credited for pioneering the beginning of a new fire service in Sumter County which began earlier this year with the hiring of a County Fire Chief. Chief Gulbrandsen has been on staff for several months in preparation for this new service which went into effect October 1, 2002.

The Fire Chief and his assistant take the candidate to task on his remarks..
THE COMMERCIAL--Online Edition

Sumter Fire officials hot over candidate's remarks

Daily Commercial Staff Writer

The Sumter County Fire Rescue, now 13-days-old, has come under attack by county commission candidate Todd Brown, and Fire Chief Bill Gulbrandsen and Assistant Chief Mike Jacobs, are hot about it.

Saturday, the two sat down to clear up some statements by Brown that they said are absolutely false. “We want to refute some of the statements candidate Brown had about the fire service,” said Gulbrandsen. “I just want the public to know the truth and not be misled.”

For instance, Brown's statement that emergency response times in the south end of the 544-square-mile county are 12 minutes on average was false, according to Gulbrandsen. Brown's comment was made only one week into the new service's history.

He also stated the county-wide fire service was not well-researched by commissioners, and there has not been an improvement in service.

“I don't know where he got that data from,” Gulbrandsen said. “He did not call my office or our 911 PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point.)”

PSAP data reveals that within the first 9 days of service, the average response time, calculated from the time the call was received at the dispatch center until the first fire unit arrived on scene - was 6.75 minutes county-wide.

Out of the 11 stations, formerly run by the individual municipalities who have now joined the county system, all are manned by volunteers, and are not staffed 24 hours every day of the week, according to Gulbrandsen.

“Those 12-minute times - there are a few,” he said, but those are primarily in remote areas of the rural county. He said 10-to-12-minute response times are neither the norm nor the average.

“To say that's our average is wrong,” he said. “With averages of 6.5 to 6.75 minutes, I think we're doing a fantastic job.”

Contrary to the information Brown may have, Jacobs and Gulbrandsen said the concept of the county service was about 30 total months in the design, planning, and dialogue stages. About 18 of those months were devoted to serious planning for growth, population increase, and issues plaguing a rural county, Jacobs said.

Thus far, the average response time to the south end of the county, including Bushnell, is 6.54 minutes, according to the department’s data.

“I don't know how they (commissioners) could have researched it any more or any closer,” he said.

Jacobs said Commissioner Jim Roberts, whose seat Brown is vying for, has been instrumental in the forming of the Sumter County Fire Rescue Service.

"Jim Roberts is the Ben Franklin of Sumter County," said Jacobs.

Of the 152 volunteer firefighters who are, at minimum, certified First Responders, many are emergency medical technicians, and Gulbrandsen said 8 percent of them are certified paramedics.

“To read this (Brown's statements) is a slap in the face,” he said. “To say there was not immediate improvement is false.” “It does more damage to the firefighters themselves,” said Jacobs.

Gulbrandsen said he was hired by Sumter County six months ago, after more than 25 years of service in Palm Beach County, to finish final research of the service and make sure everything was in place. He said that he reported to the county commissioners that there would be an approximate increase of 3,000 to 3,600 calls for service per year.

“They hired me as a fire service ‘administrator’ to finish the research. To say it was not well researched ... we have 100-percent participation from all the departments, including the cities," he said.

Already, Gulbrandsen said, those numbers are corroborated by the volume of calls within the first nine days of service to the community. There is an increase of about 10 calls per day, according to reports.

Jacobs said the reason the volunteers stay on board is to serve their community and make a difference. Even pulling cats out of trees, a task firefighters have performed since the inception, is a part of the job that is taken seriously. Despite the scratches left by a scared cat or beak bites from an unhappy trapped bird, Jacobs said it all makes a difference. “It's when you make a difference — like when you help a person in a car wreck, who you think isn't going to make it — and they come up to you a year later and shake your hand. That's incredible,” he said.

Jacobs and Gulbrandsen said that if Brown would have contacted either of them for data, they would have gladly obliged.

“If they want the info, all they have to do is give me a call,” said Gulbrandsen. Until Brown’s comments, Jacobs said the new service has not been met with any resistance in the county.

"We have been welcomed with open arms," said Jacobs. "When I ran my very first call under the new service, I pulled up to the house and there were about six people standing out front clapping."

DATA from PSAP, according to Gulbrandsen. Day one for Sumter County Fire Rescue -October 1, 2002 - Wildwood alone, received 12 calls that they would not have prior to September 30, according to Gulbrandsen.

October 1, 2002 - 4.14 minute average response time, countywide.

October 2 , 2002 - 8.5 average response time

October 3, 2002 - 4 minute average response time

Other data available by contacting the Sumter County Fire Rescue