New paid firefighters start Monday
By Amy Shannon

A crew of 27 paid career firefighters are gearing up to make history Monday at a pinning ceremony signifying the dawn of a new era of 'round-the-clock coverage at the county's busiest fire stations.

"This is a big step for Citrus County," Citrus County Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Ray Hardy said. "It's a big step any time you go from all-volunteer to a combination."

The ceremony kicks off a two-week orientation, which serves as training for the 18 career firefighters and nine career captains before their full-time shifts begin April 18. The new hires will work 24 hours on-48 hours off shifts out of Inverness, Homosassa and Pine Ridge stations, Hardy said.

Ranging in years of experience and age, the career firefighters were hired last month from a pool of 86 applicants. They represent a wide range of skill levels and backgrounds in the field.

Hardy said 19 of the 27 are locals. All but two of the 27 have volunteer experience. The oldest is 40. The youngest is 20. Their firefighting experience levels extend from one or two years to 20-plus years.

The move to create paid positions is the result of a recommendations dating back to 1986, and more recently, a 2002 study aimed at improving fire services.

"The whole goal of this will be response time," Hardy said. "Our problem today is getting the trucks on scene."

Hardy said the county's growth in recent years has increased call loads to the point where it's put a strain on the county's 200 volunteer firefighters many of whom also work full-time jobs.

Hardy's hope is that full-time firefighters already at a station when calls come through can respond to emergencies faster than a volunteer, who must arrive at the station before responding to emergencies.

"Right away you can wipe out five to six minutes," Hardy said about the convenience.

Current average response times range between 12 to 15 minutes. The county's goal is to cut response times down to seven minutes in urban areas and 12 minutes in rural areas.

On any particular day, each station will have two career firefighters and one career captain on duty.

In between responding to emergencies, the career firefighters will be responsible for "pre-planning" of commercial buildings. This includes collecting and documenting information such as a building's emergency exits, water supply, structure, etc.

The full-timers will also tackle the task of verifying specific routes provided by the agency's Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system during an emergency.

Citrus County Fire Rescue spokesman and volunteer coordinator Tom McLean said the need for volunteer firefighters, who play a vital role with the agency, will not dissipate with the arrival of new hires.

For more information about becoming a volunteer firefighter, call McLean at 527-7621.