Florida--New Rules on Training Required have some Volunteer Departments in Uproar
Some feel this is an attempt by the IAFF to wipe out Volunteers. Appropriate Training is certainly necessary but one has to decide how much is necessary. Some of these communities that are affected may only run 100-200 calls/year and the tax base will not support a career department. Without the volunteers there will be no protection. Keep in mind that the State makes money from training firefighters. In some cases (depending on where you are in Florida) it costs as much as $1400.00/student (rough guess) to run them through minimum standards (FF 1 & 2). For Fire 1 only I think it is about $600-8000/student.
Here is the story:
Pensacola News Journal
Training proposal alarms firefighters
Chiefs in dark about timing, funding needed for compliance
Sloane Stephens Cox
Northwest Florida firefighters are trying to quell a burning state-proposed training rule, which could shut down some volunteer fire departments and imperil residents in those areas.
The mandate would increase qualifications for volunteer firefighters: They would have to complete the same 160-hour training course and a final exam now required of paid firefighters. Most volunteer firefighters now are required to complete only a 40-hour course.
"There are so many ramifications to this rule - which, on the surface, appears harmless," said Pensacola Fire Chief James Dixon. "It could create a lot of havoc."
The critical issues are the amount of funding and time required for compliance - neither of which the state has clarified, according to area fire personnel.
Seeking more information, Escambia and Santa Rosa are sending representatives to DeFuniak Springs for a meeting with representatives from the Florida Fire Standards and Training and the Office of the State Fire Marshal. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. today at the DeFuniak Springs Community Center.
"I don't know who would be squawking about the concept," said John Reble, city of Milton fire chief. "But we were caught off guard. The state's dissemination of information was inadequate. We need time, and we need money to comply with very rigorous standards. Our big thing is that the window of compliance looks ridiculously small. Everyone I've talked to has indicated that this rule would become effective rather swiftly."
If implemented immediately, firefighters not in compliance with the rule would be forced to abandon their posts, leaving large areas vulnerable to fire. Insurance rates based on fire protection could skyrocket or insurance could be canceled if a fire department shuts down, Reble said.
"I've never seen such a bombshell in my life," said Richard Collins, chairman of the Chumuckla Fire Advisory Committee. "Bureaucracy is basically dumping on the volunteer firefighters. They take them for granted, give them minimum support and then they want to revamp the whole procedure without giving them any assistance. Who will suffer in the meantime? The general public."
Although Reble said Santa Rosa County will feel the impact, it is "in better shape" than counties that are exclusively volunteer. Hardest hit would be Northwest and North-Central Florida. Central Florida, by contrast, largely consists of paid departments that have considerable amounts of training and funding.
"If it hits us cold, I can't imagine what will happen," said Santa Rosa County Administrator Hunter Walker. "We depend on volunteers."
In Santa Rosa County, compliance would take a minimum of two years. About 300 volunteers in 14 departments are in need of training. It would need 15 or more classes, and currently only one is offered in the county.
"We'll have to gear up to get this operational, and there's substantial cost to that," said Rebel "It's an extreme commitment."
Escambia County Fire Chief Ken Perkins could not be reached Sunday to determine how many volunteers in Escambia County would be affected by the proposed training requirement.
Any departments out of compliance with the rule would be faced with substantial fines.
"If volunteers have trouble paying for fuel, how are they going to pay a $5,000 fine?" Dixon asked.
The changes also would preclude military fire departments from assisting local fire departments, Dixon said.
Fire officials in both counties said increasing training requirements for volunteers has been discussed for years, but requirements have been largely left to individual departments, Reble said.
Fire personnel hope that the state will decide to phase in the requirements.
"It's not a done deal yet," Dixon said.