Florida Volunteer Department's Fate Uncertain

LAUDERDALE-BY-THE-SEA, Fla.-- The future of the town's volunteer Fire Department remained unresolved Saturday after the Town Commission deadlocked on whether to end a contract with the Broward Sheriff's Office Fire Rescue.

Town commissioners voted on three separate motions about fire services at a special meeting. All ended in ties. Mayor Oliver Parker was out of town.

Until a few weeks ago, the town's volunteer firefighters had a partnership contract with the Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office terminated that contract because of safety and leadership reasons, and volunteers had to stop working. Some residents and commissioners wanted to terminate the town's $2 million fire services contract with the Sheriff's Office in response.

Volunteers were allowed access to the firehouse at their request but aren't answering emergency calls, said Elliott Cohen, Sheriff's Office spokesman.

Officials from both departments have publicly said they are willing to sit down and negotiate fire services.

Saturday's meeting failed to settle the issue.

Jim Silverstone, commissioner and volunteer fire chief, pulled back a motion to sever ties with the Sheriff's Office because he didn't think it would pass.

Instead, the commission voted on three other options. One would have ended the town's contract with the Sheriff's Office with a year's notice but allow commissioners the option of reversing their decision. The second would have protested the termination of the contract with the volunteers. And the third would have supported the Sheriff's Office action.

Before the vote, people who signed up to speak at a meeting earlier this week but didn't get to speak were allowed to comment.

Resident Bill Vitollo said he'd like the commission to appoint a committee to determine whether the volunteers can do the job on their own.

"We don't know if the volunteers are capable," he said. "The commission should start the process."

But volunteer firefighter Patrick Pointu said his department has proven its capability to the Sheriff's Office and the town.

After the meeting, Silverstone said he's looking into negotiations as well as legal action.

The votes show the public which members on the commission supports the volunteers, he said.

Commissioner Chuck Clark, who voted in support of the Sheriff's Office, disagreed.

He said he supports the volunteers as well, and would like to see them work out a compromise with the Sheriff's Office.

Republished with permission of The Sun-Sentinel.

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