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Leaders, residents to meet after fire

The county administrator asks for the meeting after a fatal mobile home fire prompts concerns about High Point's volunteer department.

By RICK GERSHMAN
Published September 8, 2005


HIGH POINT - County officials will meet today with High Point residents to discuss fire response concerns originating from a mobile home fire in which a woman was found dead.

A 20-year veteran county firefighter ripped the community's unpaid firefighting unit after Sunday's predawn blaze.

The volunteers "can't do the job" and "have no clue how to fight fires," Hernando County Fire Rescue Lt. Robert Rae said in a interview Tuesday.

When people there are in danger, he said, "these guys are not going to save them."

County Administrator Gary Adams said he requested the meeting to advise High Point residents of their options.

"I think this fire the other night pointed out some real problems and some real concerns," Adams said. "We want them to know we have potentially serious concerns, but then the ball's in their court. We're not going to cram anything down their throat."

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office confirmed Wednesday that the body found in the 12243 Fairway Ave. home was that of Marie Janet James, 54.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Deputy Donna Black said the agency could use the public's assistance in finding any relatives or family friends of Mrs. James. Anyone with such information should provide it to Detective Jim Boylan at (352) 754-6830.

Black would not comment on the cause of death, noting that has not been confirmed by the medical examiner.

Because they rely on volunteer firefighters, High Point residents are not part of the Hernando County Fire District. They pay $45 annually in fire fees, as opposed to Hernando fire district residents, who will be paying $128 annually beginning this fall.

One of Rae's chief criticisms was an agreement with the county that prohibited his Station 12 fire engine from entering High Point and responding to the fully involved fire until its help was requested by the volunteer department.

"We sat out at the front gate for six minutes before the High Point chief called us in, and then it takes two minutes to get (to the house) so it was like eight minutes total," Rae said.

High Point fire officials acknowledged their agency was understaffed Sunday because several members remained up North for the summer, while others were gone for the Labor Day weekend. Said Assistant Chief Jim Pilipchuk: "This was not a real opportune time for us to respond."

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

[Last modified September 8, 2005, 01:49:23]


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