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County needs fire volunteers

Fire Chief Richard Stover says staffing problems may lead to some stations closing.

By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
Published January 10, 2007


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INVERNESS - The county's fire department is struggling to find enough volunteer firefighters, Fire Chief Richard Stover said Tuesday.

Fire officials are also redrawing district lines and may close several fire stations at some point in the next year, Stover told county commissioners.

"I can't say for sure how many or which ones right now," he said. Finding volunteers to staff them, he said, is part of the problem.

But Stover said he and other officials are working to create better incentives for volunteers, including possibly reimbursing volunteers for required training.

There are now 98 volunteer firefighters on the county's rosters.

And some of them aren't happy, Stover said.

"I know the volunteers are upset because they feel we're not working hard enough on recruiting," he said.

Also, some recent applicants haven't passed background checks or physical examinations, Stover said. Others are certified in different states and resent requirements for additional training.

Last month, the officers association's chairman challenged every volunteer firefighter to recruit one new member, Stover said.

"They themselves were unable to bring in any new volunteers," Stover said. "It's just that hard out there."

Recruiting volunteers is a national problem, Stover said.

But several commissioners said the county could develop a local solution.

Commissioner John Thrumston said the department should devote more resources to advertising, and put its recruiting plan on paper.

Commissioner Vicki Phillips said she has spoken to people who are willing to volunteer but cannot get permission to leave work from their employers.

"I do hear complaints from the volunteers. They really resent the fact that they have to do any training," Commissioner Joyce Valentino said. "Life has changed, and it's just not as easy as it used to be years ago."

Stover told commissioners that the department is also looking at changing its education programs.

He said officials hope to transfer training to the Withlacoochee Technical Institute and start a new program to train 11th- and 12th-grade students to become volunteer firefighters.

In April 2005, the department began hiring paid firefighters. Now there are 27. The county is slated to hire nine more this year.

Commissioners said Tuesday they were committed to preserving the county's volunteer firefighter program.

Stover will report back in six to eight months with redistricting plans.

In other county government news:

- Citrus County seniors may soon have a new organization to turn to for help.

This month a group will hold the first planning meeting for Citrus Senior Club nonprofit foundation, Community Support Services director Cathy Pearson said Tuesday.

Pearson told commissioners that the group will hold focus groups to identify seniors' needs and work hard to address them. "It seemed like a good way to not rely on county government for every single thing that we do," Community Services director Brad Thorpe told commissioners.

The foundation will have its first organizational meeting later this month, Pearson said.

- Commissioners unanimously approved several resolutions that will ultimately close the deal on the county's purchase of the Florida Governmental Utility Authority's systems.

The resolutions allow the county to finance its purchase and head to the bond market.

- Morris Harvey, fiscal watch chairman for the Citrus County Council watchdog group, criticized commissioners for not taking quick action to change the way the county presents and approves its budget. He said budget issues were on the tip of many commissioners tongues during the campaign season, but seem to have faded away.

"Our concern is that this is just a lot of political hot wind," he said.

But Commissioner Gary Bartell said he had already asked County Administrator June Fisher to add discussion of the budget process to the commission's next meeting agenda.

"Exactly what you're asking for has already been done ... without your help," Bartell told Harvey.

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 860-7309.

 

 

 

[Last modified January 9, 2007, 21:15:59]


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