Although Hernando County has a Fire and Emergency Services composed of professional firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), most people don’t know that we also have a group of thirty-three volunteers that assist these folks.
Monday, May 16, officers of the Hernando County Fire Corps were sworn in at a ceremony at Fire Station #2 on Bob Hartung Drive near the post office. Jim Billotte, Chief of Hernando County Fire and Emergency Services, administered the oath of office.
The new or returning officers present were:
Ron Doyle – Deputy Commander in charge of maintenance
John Lightsey – Commander of the Fire Corps
Vince Montefusco – Training officer
Betty Roberts – Treasurer
Salvatore Rotella, Jr. – Public Information Officer
Vince Montefusco – Training officer
Bill Sadlier – Deputy Commander of the Fire Corps
Dawn White – Financial Services
Not attending the swearing-in were John Thornton, Deputy Commander for Logistics, and Tiffany Smith, Secretary.
The Hernando County Fire Corps is always in need of volunteers. No experience is needed and there are only a few basic requirements. You must be between the age of 18 and 80. You do not have to pass a physical, but you need to be in reasonably good health, able to walk a bit, etc. A volunteer must also be fingerprinted and pass a Level 2 background check by the Sheriff’s Office. If you plan to go into the schools you also need to pass the school system’s Level 2 background check.
Training is free and volunteers need to spend at least 25 hours during the year on “active duty” and attend at least six meetings during the year. These meetings are held monthly. Annual dues for the volunteers is $12.00.
Volunteers are not required to be “on call” for emergencies. However, as Public Information Officer Salvatore Rotella, Jr. explains, “We have a system called ‘One Call Now.’ When there is a fire or other emergency, everyone will receive an automated message from fire dispatch on their phone.”
Rotella has been with the organization for approximately seven years. He started out on a First Aid squad when he was younger and was a volunteer fire fighter in Inglis, Florida in their all-volunteer fire department before moving to Spring Hill.
Fire Corps Commander John Lightsey is a retired firefighter from New York City. On September 11, 2001, he was stationed at a fire company in Manhattan located just one and a half miles from Ground Zero and handled dispatching of the fire and rescue units that day and for several days after.
The Hernando County Fire Corps volunteers perform a myriad of duties to assist the firefighters and EMTs. They are on the scene to supply cold drinks, especially when it’s hot; food, and support. They also help move equipment around and store it. Another important job is filling the air bottles–the equipment the fire fighters use for breathing when going into a burning building. Some will also be trained to drive and operate the air truck when needed.
Fire Corps volunteers are allowed to accompany the firefighters and EMTs in “ride-alongs” as long as they give advance notice.
Chief Billotte remarked, “We’re getting busier every year. There are 35,000 calls for service every year. 70% percent are for Emergency Medical Service and 30% are for fires, hazardous materials situations, rescues and other emergencies.”
The large elderly population partly attributes to this. The influx of people moving into this area and the fact that roads are more congested, leading to more accidents, are other contributing factors.
We have only so much money allocated for professional first responders, which is why volunteers such as Betty Roberts are so important. Ms. Roberts, a retiree, has been a member of the Fire Corps since 2007.
Hernando County’s emergency infrastructure is expanding rapidly. This November, work will be completed on the construction of Fire Station #5 on Spring Hill Drive. It will be larger than most and will be able to accommodate more people than the present buildings were designed for. Fire Station #5 will have separate sleeping quarters for everybody. In addition, it’s designed for the health benefits of the fire fighters for cancer prevention. There will be separate areas for the fire fighters to clean up and separate areas to store their gear.
There will be an entire wall dedicated to the memory of 9/11 with memorabilia from Ground Zero. The walls will be reinforced to accommodate glass cases and there will be a piece of one of the Twin Towers on display.
The station on Hernando Beach (Fire Station #6) will also be rebuilt. That process will take longer that the one on Spring Hill Drive because of the building codes in that location.
“It’s a challenge because the building has to be up off the ground. It’s going to look like a beach house to blend in with the community, but inside it will look like a fire house,” Chief Billotte remarked.
Station #2 on Bob Hartung Drive in Spring Hill will be demolished by the end of the summer and a new one will be built in its place. It will be similar in design to Fire Station #5 but smaller.
There are plans for two additional fire stations. One will be on US 19 North in the Weeki Wachee area. The other will be in the vicinity of Spring Lake Highway on the east side of the county to accommodate the burgeoning growth due to people moving from Tampa to Hernando County.
The county is also purchasing new trucks designed with the health of the fire fighters in mind. There will be space for them to store their air packs and tools on the outside of the truck, so they will not be contaminating the cab of the trucks with the hazardous agents that are on this equipment.
In addition to volunteers, the Hernando County Fire Corps can also use donations of money and food. Right now they are receiving food donations from Chick-fil-A, Cici’s Pizza and the Salvation Army.
The thirty-three dedicated volunteers currently serving in the Fire Corps are first responders just as much as their professional counterparts and exemplify their description: “Citizens Helping Fire and EMS.”
Anyone who is interested in volunteering for The Hernando County Fire Corps, would like additional information or wants to donate money or food, can email Commander John Lightsey at [email protected] or call Salvatore Rotella at 352-232-1983. You can also follow the Fire Corps on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/124969597031.