Walton hires its first fire manager

¸ Former chief fills new position, hopes to unify departments in north part of district within five years.

By HEATHER CIVIL Daily News Staff Writer

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS – Walton County has hired its first fire manager to oversee the county fire districts north of Choctawhatchee Bay, that could soon merge.

Former South Walton Fire District Division Chief Eddie Rivers took the job of fire manager about two weeks ago.

The County Commission created the fire manager position last year after conducting a study of fire protection in north Walton, said County Admini- strator Ronnie Bell.

The study recommended the position to coordinate and oversee the volunteer fire departments that rely in part on county funding to operate, he said.

“As we grow, the demand for fire services continues to grow,” Bell said.

The position pays $54,000 a year.

The fire manager’s responsibilities include coordinating firefighter training programs and overseeing nine county paramedics that staff the volunteer fire departments.

Rivers ultimately wants the fire departments north of the bay to merge into a unified Walton County fire department. He hopes the change can happen within the next five years.

When they unify, the fire departments would not change much in terms of coverage areas and staffing.

What would change is how they are managed, Rivers said.

Right now, each department gets about 70 percent of its funding from the county, and is responsible for its own budget, he said.

A unified department would function under the County Commission and would have one budget.

That change could add up to quite a bit of savings, Rivers said.

For example, if the county handled the budget for all the departments, it could buy equipment in bulk, which is always less expensive than buying smaller amounts, he said.

The county could also purchase one insurance policy for the departments instead of each one paying for its own like it does now, he said.

That alone could save a lot of money, which could be put toward training and new equipment, Rivers said.

“The savings would be tremendous,” he said. “The benefits of doing this are endless.” Several of the fire departments have expressed some interest in unifying, Rivers said. Those that don’t want to won’t have to, he added.

Merging under the county isn’t for the Liberty Volunteer Fire Department, said Fire Chief Roger Roy.

He said that he doesn’t want the county to run his department for him.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said.

¸ Staff writer Heather Civil can be reached at 267-8300, Ext. 204, or heatherc@nwfdailynews.com