Aug. 05--SEBRING -- Most likely, West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department would be happy if the majority of Sun 'n Lake residents feel like Linda Kegley does about fire protection a year after West Sebring started providing fire services to the community.
Kegley, who said she fortunately hasn't had a house fire that required service, said she hasn't seen any change in fire service provided to Sun 'n Lake and Tanglewood.
Sun 'n Lake General Manager Mike Wright said he feels the change went "extremely well" during the year.
"I have no issues," he said.
Sun 'n Lake decided more than a year ago to eliminate its paid fire department and contract with Highlands County for fire services. Officials said the primary reason was to save money.
One of the largest changes for residents will be in October when Highlands County sends them tax notices.
Assistant Chief Billy Kingston said the cost will be $25 per residence, $15 for a mobile home, $150 for a commercial business and $5 per undeveloped lot.
Wright said the board of directors for the Sun 'n Lake improvement district will meet Aug. 22 to decide on any reduction of its assessment for residents as a result of that.
As for the fire department, Kingston said, the changeover has gone smoothly. The volunteer fire department received $144,000 from Sun 'n Lake and the bulk of that was spent on upgrading fire equipment they use in the community.
During the year, West Sebring has handled 126 calls with 73 since Jan. 1, he said. About 80 percent of those were medical, he said.
They've had one working structure fire during that period, he said.
The change has also prompted additional training, Kingston said. West Sebring did not have an aerial vehicle before the switchover, he said. Later this month, firefighters will be training on that vehicle, he said.
One challenge they've faced is recruiting volunteers from the Sun 'n Lake development since many of the residents are retired or seasonal. One person is undergoing training, but they would like more volunteers, Kingston said.
Eventually, he said, they want to replace the aging fire truck housed at Sun 'n Lake, he said.
In the long run, Kingston said, he believes there's a need for a larger fire station and EMS facility at Sun 'n Lake, but that will depend on the money available.
Kingston said volunteer firefighters report to whatever station in the district is the closest. Many of them work full-time jobs and have families, he said.
"These folks are super busy and they are giving back to the community," he said.
Copyright 2014 - Highlands Today, Sebring, Fla.