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Leaders tuning in to firefighters

Commissioners want $4,800 for radios to keep track of the way firefighting crews and equipment are used.

By JENNIFER FARRELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


SPRING HILL -- Commissioners of the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District voted Wednesday night to spend roughly $4,800 on three portable radios that will allow them to monitor daily goings-on in the department.

The vote came after a workshop at which commissioners questioned how the staff responds to requests for mutual aid from other departments.

On Thursday, Commissioner Dennis Andrews said there have been several incidents recently in which personnel and equipment were sent to emergencies outside the district, leaving Spring Hill without proper coverage.

"We just can't be constantly sending our stuff out," he said. "We're more than happy to help, but we're not going to support the rest of the world."

Andrews listed a large-scale brush fire last month on County Line Road as a prime example.

"That's not our area, yet we were the first to respond and the first to supply our equipment and manpower," he said. "It's just stripping the Spring Hill district of its firefighting power."

The radios will allow commissioners to gauge how the department manages its resources, to "monitor the pulse of the district," Commissioner Jeff Hollander said.

Hollander and Commission Chairman Bob Kanner will each keep a radio, they said, with the third being kept at district headquarters for the three remaining commissioners to sign out when they like.

"I think it's a very good investment from a management point of view," Hollander said.

Others are not so sure.

John Ferriero, president of the firefighters union, said the idea struck him initially as "the most ridiculous thing I ever heard."

The radios' value will depend largely on how commissioners use them, Ferriero said.

"It remains to be seen if it's a necessary expense or not. . . . As long as they act like commissioners who want to observe and be aware, as opposed to wannabe fire chiefs who want to get in the way and try to intervene," he said. "As soon as they try to become little chiefs, I'm going to have a problem with it."

Kanner said he wants to be sure the district is following, and not abusing, the contract that outlines mutual aid with other departments.

"I don't ever want to see three fire engines out of Spring Hill and just one (left) to cover 60 square miles of Spring Hill," he said. "People here are paying a little extra to get a lot of extra service, and I want to make sure they get all of what they pay for."

Currently, the chief, assistant chief and shift commanders carry the portable radios, which cost about $1,600 each. Each ambulance and fire engine is equipped with two radios, and Kanner said dispatch keeps two or three for emergencies. The new radios, he said, would be available to the district if any of the others fail.

Hollander said he plans to monitor traffic on the radio and then go to scenes and take pictures, possibly to compile a portfolio to show the public its firefighters at work.

The commission tabled discussion of an agenda item that called for new plaques for commissioners' cars. Hollander said the bronze plaques, which cost $50 each, would allow rescue workers to recognize them immediately at fire and accident scenes. The plaques, he added, would help commissioners, who already carry badges and identification cards.

"It just makes it a lot easier than having to constantly explain and pull your shield out," he said.

Hollander plans to bring the topic up at the commission's next meeting.

As for the radios, Ferriero said they might wind up being a positive tool for commissioners.

"It will allow them to realize that we do a pretty damn good job," he said. "The more people that know, the better."

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