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  1. #1
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default Hernando County and Highpoint VFD

    Highpoint VFD is a small volunteer department in a private retirement community that has an age restriction of 55 years or older for residents. Therefore their volunteer firefighters obviously are over the age of 55. Many of them hail from the north where they proudly served northern fire departments before they retired to this area. A sparse amount of their members have Florida certification that is required, so despite their experience they can not enter burning buildings due to state statues. Two recent fires that destroyed homes, one in which members showed up on scene and no one went to the stationto bring a fire truck. The most recent fire where lack of certified members and a failure to authorize county response into the complex led to the house being destroyed. In this last case there was a fatality, however, the fatality was due to a suicide by the occupant after she lit the fire. Several members have admitted their inability to don SCBA and fight fire, yet they still oppose a county takeover and want to serve their community. The articles that led to this editorial may be posted in reverse order, as I have misplaced some of them.
    ______________________________ ________________

    ST. Petersburg Times

    Fire plan for High Point must be well defined
    A Times Editorial
    Published September 22, 2005

    -----------------
    The High Point Volunteer Fire Department gained a reprieve when the Hernando County Commission voted to wait until December to decide whether it should assume full coverage of the 1,600-mobile home community.

    That shift in thinking was somewhat surprising because the commission had voted eight days earlier, at the request of the High Point homeowners' board of directors, to begin absorbing the community into the county's fire system.

    Given the provision that the county's professional firefighters will be in command if a fire occurs in High Point, the 21/2-month delay should adequately provide for residents' safety, which must be the commission's paramount responsibility.

    Between now and Dec. 6, when the issue is scheduled to be brought back to the commission, its members need to find a way to gauge the wishes of residents and ascertain if the volunteer firefighters are qualified to do their jobs. Given that very few of the volunteers are certified by the state to be first-responder firefighters, and that more demanding state standards will go into effect at the beginning of the year, the magnitude of that concern cannot be overemphasized.

    As part of its decision Tuesday to postpone a possible takeover of High Point's fire service, the commission has asked the homeowners association to survey residents to determine their preference. That intention is good, but the devil may lie in the details of how the survey is conducted.

    It would be one-dimensional to ask only if residents prefer a volunteer force to the county's paid one without making sure residents have factual information beforehand about the options and consequences.

    County Administrator Gary Adams should instruct his staff to work with the homeowners association leaders to help compile pertinent information, such as costs, staffing, response times and equipment, so that residents can make an informed decision. Without that knowledge, residents will be constrained to reach their conclusions based on emotions, hearsay and loyalty to their neighbors.

    The commissioners also stipulated Tuesday that they would like Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai to oversee an audit of the High Point fire department. That idea doesn't make sense. What could Nicolai's office do that the state agencies in charge of firefighter certification cannot? Nicolai's staff specializes in financial audits, and there has been no indication whatsoever about irregularities with the volunteer department's finances. The commission should have specified what it expects from Nicolai.

    The commissioners' plan of action may have merely postponed the inevitable fate of High Point's volunteer fire department. If that turns out to be the case, at least they can assure residents they did not rush into a decision with insufficient information.

    [Last modified September 22, 2005, 01:03:19]
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


  2. #2
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default

    St. Petersburg Times

    Grappling with a hot issue: volunteer fire force
    Commissioners approve a motion to ask High Point residents for a confidence vote and to take the matter to the homeowners board later.
    By RICK GERSHMAN
    Published September 21, 2005

    -----------------
    BROOKSVILLE - The issue centers on fire and response times. So perhaps it's appropriate that on Tuesday, most Hernando County commissioners appeared to find the matter too hot to touch - and in no hurry to deal with it.

    Consequently, the quick-fix solution the county applied to ensure High Point residents receive sufficient fire service may remain unchanged until December.

    The political hot potato was High Point Volunteer Fire Department's future.

    Its firefighting days appeared numbered after Sept. 9, when the retirement community's homeowners board requested the county immediately take authority for fire coverage.

    Citing pressing public safety concerns, County Administrator Gary Adams agreed. Last week, commissioners ratified Adams' decision with a unanimous vote and pushed discussion of a permanent solution to Tuesday.

    But faced with several dozen High Point residents Tuesday, commissioners produced no resolution. After more than 90 minutes of public comment and discussions with county staff and a state fire marshal instructor, no commissioner stepped up to push an action plan.

    Instead, they tossed around some notions:

    Could they audit the competence level of the aging volunteer department - which alternately has claimed it has either "one or two" personnel actually state certified to fight a fire - or could the fire marshal do that?

    Should they ask High Point residents to take a confidence vote on the volunteers, though it won't matter if the department falls short of state requirements by year's end?

    If the aging force follows an idea to bring in young, state-certified firefighters, does that even help because they aren't allowed to live in the 55-and-over community?

    After a lengthy discussion over whether the commission needed to take any action at all, commissioner Christopher Kingsley ultimately made a motion that actually had four parts. Commissioners unanimously approved the motion to:

    Ask High Point residents to hold a confidence vote on the department.

    Ask County Clerk Karen Nicolai to look into performing an audit of the department.

    Continue providing upgraded fire service, which gives Hernando County Fire Rescue command over High Point fire scenes and the ability to respond without requesting permission from the volunteers.

    Bring the matter before the board again on Dec. 6.

    The question of whether the county should take over primary fire service from High Point's volunteers has arisen on occasion over the years, most recently in February 2002.

    It leapt to the fore earlier this month after a woman set fire to her Fairway Avenue home and then committed suicide.

    A 20-year veteran Hernando County firefighter, Lt. Robert Rae, criticized the time it took for the volunteer fire engine to arrive and the six minutes his agency's engine was forced to wait outside the community's gate. He also contended the volunteers "have no clue" how to fight fires.

    Commissioner Diane Rowden is a leading proponent of allowing professional county firefighters more control in High Point.

    She noted Tuesday that commissioners in 2002 unanimously approved her motion to allow High Point (and Hernando Beach, another volunteer force) to remain outside of the county fire program "until such a time as the levels of service produced a problem with health, safety and welfare, or the residents of the area petitioned to join."

    "I think both of these have now occurred," she said. "The level of service has declined since 2002."

    Of the High Point residents who spoke, most pushed for the county to take control over fire coverage from the volunteers. Several noted support for the volunteers' other duties while voicing concerns about firefighting. A few supported the volunteer force outright.

    High Point Assistant Fire Chief Jim Pilipchuk presented commissioners with a heated defense of his department and claimed the county used strong-arm tactics to force the homeowners board into requesting county fire authority.

    "This letter, it was coerced," he claimed. "People were intimidated into signing that letter. I'm on the board. I know."

    Several residents, however, expressed concern with the volunteer force. One was Ted Ross, who has lived in the 1,600-home community for three years. He said, "We now have a problem where the people providing these services are not competent."

    Rick Gershman can be reached at 352 754-6117 or rgershman@sptimes.com

    [Last modified September 21, 2005, 00:24:18]
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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