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Fire officers may do double duty


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001

SPRING HILL -- In a bid to get a return on their investment on officer training, Spring Hill Fire Rescue District commissioners are considering a plan to require on-duty officers who are certified fire inspectors to help the department's two full-time inspectors with their workload.

At a workshop Wednesday night, commissioners mulled the proposal as part of their move to retool the district's policy on "school slots," which allow employees to take classes during their regular shifts. Last year, commissioners decided to stop paying for firefighters to attend college courses to become registered nurses.

Under consideration is further tightening of the education policy to make sure that employees get reimbursed only for courses directly related to their jobs and that requests for classes outside those bounds be considered by commissioners.

In the past six months, firefighters using school slots created 141 hours of overtime, according to Chief Mike Morgan.

Morgan said those numbers should decrease with recent hires, which have brought the department to full strength. He added: "The school slot is not the root of our overtime problem."

Chairman Bob Kanner said Thursday that requiring officers certified as fire inspectors to help with inspection follow-up and compliance is one way to recoup overtime expenses caused by the 40-hour certification classes in Ocala.

"Not only are we paying to train them as inspectors but we pay to recertify them every three years," Kanner said. "It's a waste of money. . . . It's costing the taxpayers money and we're not getting anything in return."

Union president John Ferriero said he supported the concept but added that lieutenants with fire inspection certifications are an asset, even if they don't perform inspections. "I think it is absolutely critical to that position," he said.

In 1998, the district made the certification a requirement to become an officer. Currently, there are 12 officers in the department, but some were promoted before the policy change and do not hold the certification. Kanner and Morgan were unable to say how many officers are certified fire inspectors.

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