City approves a second Deputy Fire Chief


NORTH PORT -- Fire Chief Bill Taaffe told the city commission Thursday that North Port's inevitable expansion will require a reorganization of his department.

He asked for, and received permission to hire, a second Deputy Fire Chief.

"I'd like to get someone in here that can help administer the business end of the organization with me, and plan for the future development and growth of the fire department," Taaffe said.

Other cities of comparable size, he explained, have as many as three fire stations. North Port has two, and Taaffe believes a third will soon be warranted in the Toledo Blade area.

Taaffe, who became Fire Chief in January, has one deputy. He explained that the deputy's duties, as well as his own, have been stretched thin, and another deputy was necessary to strictly handle the department's administrative and business affairs. The Fire Rescue District is also responsible for paramedic and ambulance response in North Port.

"The fire department is a revenue-producing industry," he said. "But no one is monitoring, and no one has ever managed it as a business.

"We need to look at shared operations guidelines, policies and procedures, to manage our business affairs. We also need to plan logically and logistically for the future."

Taaffe told the commissioners that the second deputy would be paid around $59,000 per year. There is approximately $51,000 in the budget already for a Training Officer position -- recommended in a 2001 management study -- that remains unfilled. Taaffe insisted he was not "upsizing the department; I'm actually changing the job function of the position."

To fund the plan, he said, "I would delay the hiring of the vacant Training Officer to a future time. While the Training Officer is needed, administrative management of the department is crucial to the proper development of this growing city's fire department."

Taafe further explained that his two Deputy Chiefs would be able to manage training functions, along with their other duties, for a period of 24 to 30 months, at which time a Training Officer will need to be located.

"It's nice to see that this department is finally taking on a proactive role, as opposed to a reactive role as they have in the past," said Commissioner Vanessa Carusone during Thursday's meeting.

Commissioners Rue Berryman and Richard Lockhart also expressed their faith in Taaffe's judgment. "We, the City of North Port, have never had a professional, experienced Fire Chief," Lockhart said. "We have one now.

"He needs a few tools to work with, especially in the future. He knows what he needs at this point."

Chairwoman Barbara Gross made similar statements.

The resolution passed by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Joe Fink dissenting.

"With all due respect," he said to Taaffe, "you were hired to be the wunderkind. Let's utilize that first before we add on another layer."

Fink objected to what he called "cherry-picking" budget issues, and to the additional $8,000 the position will necessitate.

"Considering that we're looking at an austerity budget in the district," he asked. "how can we afford to ask the citizens to take on more indebtedness?"

You can e-mail Bill DeYoung at bdeyoung@sun-herald.com


By BILL DeYOUNG

Staff Writer