County Fire, EMS turns 21


DESOTO COUNTY -- The DeSoto County Public Safety Department turns 21 next week. The department will be celebrating the occasion today with a cookout at Station No. 1 on Carlstrom Field Road.

The department, which provides fire, rescue and emergency medical service in the unincorporated areas of the county, officially came into being Oct. 1, 1982.

Only two of the original staff are still with the department -- EMT/firefighter Sally Taylor and Capt. William Walker.

"Captain Walker has me by a half-day," says Taylor, who is now serving as office manager for the department.

Third in line for departmental longevity is Capt. Glenn Prescott, who joined the department in March 1984.

The department has had only three public safety directors in the two decades of its existence -- the first director, or "chief" was Armon Summerall. He was followed by Rick Witmer who left the department in 2001.

The current director is Chief Elmer Taylor, who took over in April 2001. Elmer Taylor came to the director's job with 26 years firefighting experience with the Sarasota Fire Department from which he retired as battalion captain in 1975.

The first county fire station was -- ironically -- No. 2 on Tenth Avenue, now a city fire station.

Sally Taylor remembers the first days of the department's existence.

"There were three of us at that station, plus one city fireman," Sally Taylor said. "Altogether, there were 15 full-time employees working the three shifts."

The department had only three firefighting vehicles then.

From the beginning, the department combined fire fighting and emergency medical services. When the county took over emergency medical service from the Sheriff's Office, six of the sheriff's employees transferred over to the county fire-rescue unit, one of them being Sally Taylor. She had been with the Sheriff's Office for a year, serving not only as an EMT, but also as a jail matron. Taylor and her EMT colleagues had responsibilities in the jail.

"We did the booking," she recalls.

In the early days, there was little in the way of specially designed and built ambulances. According to Walker, one of the first ambulances was an old one that came from the Sheriff's Office. "Plus two van-style ambulance-rescue units."

At first, the department offered only Basic Life Support EMS service, utilizing emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

"In 1987, we went to Advanced Life Support which required paramedics" says Sally Taylor.

In the latter part of 1984, the department moved to what is now the site of Station 1 on the corner of Carlstrom Field Road and Airport Road.

There were four other stations scattered around the county in 1984, all manned by volunteers: Fort Ogden (the only one with paid volunteers), Brownville, Nocatee, and Peace River Street (in south county).

Today the department has 24 employees at two stations. Station No. 1 is still the main station. All the volunteer stations have been shut down. In 2001 the new South County station was established near the intersection of C.R. 769 (Kings Highway) and C.R. 761.

It is interesting to note that the county's Public Safety Department and the Arcadia Fire Department have been cooperating from the beginning of the county's Fire-EMS service. Under a city-county agreement, each department was responsible for making the initial response within its jurisdiction.

The two services agreed to back each other up, if needed, to meet additional calls or on a second response. This cooperation continues, even though several efforts over the past two decades at consolidation have failed.


By JOHN LAWHORNE