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Spring Hill Fire Rescue given one new hire

By CHANDRA BROADWATER
Published March 17, 2007


SPRING HILL - With backing from the Spring Hill Fire Rescue board, Chief J.J. Morrison wants to increase the number of firefighters on each shift.

But as long as Hernando County officials deny the six new positions the fire district requested for the 2007-08 budget year, it appears that Spring Hill Fire Rescue will only get one new person.

Fire board members discussed the issue with Morrison during a rescheduled Thursday night workshop session and ultimately gave him permission to draft a letter to county commissioners asking why they denied the request.

Fire commissioners Charles Raborn and Gene Panozzo were absent. Raborn, who was running late from his Pasco County job, showed up for the executive session that took place after the workshop.

While Spring Hill Fire meets minimum national safety standards - with three firefighters on a truck - Morrison wants to increase that number to four.

"As fire chief, the safety of firefighters is my liability," Morrison said. "We're better than the county fire department, but we're only at the minimum."

There are now 29 firefighters on each Spring Hill Fire shift at each of the four stations, said County Human Resources director Barbara Dupre.

Among those needed to ride in ambulances and on the ladder truck, that number also includes six floaters who are available to take the spot of someone who might be sick or on vacation.

"That's already six people above minimum manning on each shift," Dupre said.

With Hernando Budget Director George Zoettlein and County Administrator Gary Kuhl, Dupre went over the fire district's recent request in addition to all other new positions requested in the county.

Instead of the six Morrison requested for 2007-08, and three more for 2008-09, the county approved one full-time position and set a limit of three more for the budget cycle after that.

Morrison said that more manpower would mean more safety for firefighters and the residents of Spring Hill. He also questioned the county's approval of more than 10 positions for Hernando Fire Rescue.

According to Hernando Fire Chief Mike Nickerson, 12 personnel spots for the 2006-07 fiscal year will be paid for by a five-year federal grant the county fire district received to bring the organization up to minimum staffing levels - three firefighters per truck.

The grant will cover a declining percentage of all 12 of the new firefighters salaries over the next four years. The addition will bring the total number of firefighters on shift at each of the county's nine fire stations from 30 to 34.

Also Thursday, at the suggestion of fire board attorney Andy Salzman, fire district commissioners announced their support for televised workshop sessions. Commissioners George Biro and Margaret Perreira, who formerly opposed the idea, both said they now supported it.

In December, the fire board voted against the proposal. Televising workshops through the county would cost the fire district $3,000 a year - an increase of $1,000 to televise only meetings.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the idea soon.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.