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Today's Letters: District doesn't need county help

By LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published April 13, 2007


During the 21 years I've lived here, Spring Hill has been the most densely populated area of the county. This density is reflected in the built environment - houses, shops, restaurants, schools, etc. Here, where the people and the places are most heavily concentrated, there should be - and in the case of fire services there is - concentrated resources.

Working for the Hernando County Emergency Management Office throughout the 1990s allowed me to closely observe the consolidation of fire districts in the northwest, east and south central (Masaryktown) areas of the county with the Hernando County Fire Rescue District. I understood these consolidation efforts were partly a long-term professional enhancement of fire service delivery in areas that had been all-volunteer. It also allowed for fiscal support and oversight to areas that were rural to semirural and poised for intense growth.

This consolidation did not come without significant growing pains. Years later, stations, equipment and manpower continue to be inadequate to support the delivery of fire service to the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) fully prescribed standards. These standards ensure the safety of firefighters and the quality of service delivery. The locally supported (taxes) expenses for this department have run over budget each year, resulting in the need to dip into reserve funds each year.

The Spring Hill Fire Rescue District is a professional service, with a very low Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating that is unsurpassed in our county.

Lower ISO ratings result in meaningful insurance rate reductions for homeowners and businesses within Spring Hill. The stations, equipment, apparatus and manpower owned by the taxpayers of Spring Hill meet the NFPA standards, and management's ideas about a fifth station and additional manpower (the request of which was recently denied by the county Human Resources department) all strive toward an even lower ISO rating, continued compliance with the standards, and most important, a keen delivery of fire services.

To consolidate Spring Hill Fire Rescue under the County Commission ultimately means to consolidate fire services throughout the county. Logic dictates that bringing up the level of service delivery throughout the county will require that the resources of Spring Hill be deconcentrated.

I am proud of our new station at Whitewood Avenue and Spring Hill Drive. The design is classic. We all should be proud to know the men housed there are well trained and proud of their affiliation with a department that is well equipped and well funded.

We did that, Spring Hill, so remind county commissioners we don't need their help with fire services.

Annette Doying, Spring Hill

 

County, beware: Voters watching

Hernando County commissioners, keep your hands off the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District.

Just because we do not attend the meetings doesn't mean we're not watching you. We voted you in and we can vote you out.

Julius Ricks, Spring Hill

 

Takeover would ruin fire service

The Hernando County Commission is preparing to take over the management of the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District and strip the community's residents of any authority or control over its greatest asset.

If the county prevails in its plan, county commissioners will decide where to station the rescue units paid for by Spring Hill taxpayers and will decide the standards Spring Hill district employees are to meet.

Those two elements - equipment and personnel - are what make the difference between a mediocre and an outstanding fire/rescue department. In Spring Hill, the district invested the taxpayers' money wisely, managed itself well and created an outstanding department.

Why has the County Commission, and primarily Commissioner David Russell, pushed to take over the district's management? Russell has cited two issues: the district's refusal to move its dispatchers to the county emergency management center in Brooksville and the district's keeping the county personnel director out of a contract negotiating session with the firefighters' union.

The Spring Hill fire district has the same dispatching system as the county. The dispatchers were kept in Spring Hill because there was no reason for them to travel to Brooksville to do exactly what they are doing in Spring Hill. There was no effect on the service provided to Spring Hill residents and no effect on the county's dispatch system.

As for the district's barring personnel director Barbara Dupre from its negotiating session with the firefighters' union, the 2005 ordinance giving the county some authority over the district does not specify that the county supervise union negotiations. The district negotiators excluded her from the meeting because they believed she was not authorized to attend - even the firefighters can't attend such sessions.

So, while Russell contends the district is engaging in a "turf" war, it sounds more like Russell just got in a snit because the district balked at doing what he wanted.

Russell has never claimed that Spring Hill residents complain of poor service. He can't. The people in Spring Hill are getting the best service in the area. Unlike the county fire rescue service, every Spring Hill rescue unit is a top-line vehicle, fully equipped to handle medical emergencies.

It is this professionalism and commitment to the finest service that Spring Hill residents stand to lose. Before this happens, residents need to look at how the county manages its own fire rescue service, which is regularly short of money, short of personnel and short on expertise.

As the county grabs more and more power, I believe it will take Spring Hill's equipment and personnel, which will still be paid for by Spring Hill taxpayers, and use them elsewhere in the county. That's the kind of management Russell and the commission plan to pass on to Spring Hill.

I urge the people of Spring Hill to attend Tuesday's county hearing on this matter. Say loud and clear we don't want the county ruining our outstanding asset.

Jim Tomlinson, Spring Hill