A City Council Workshop was held on Monday, March 12, 2018 to determine the future of the Brooksville Fire Department, which operates at $1.7 million per year. The city is considering having Hernando County provide fire and emergency medical services.
City Manager Mark Kutney opened by discussing alternative fire-delivery services. The major models include paid (the current model), a combination of paid and volunteer, and strictly volunteer. In a complete volunteer model, fire personnel are paid a “token amount, but no full-time fire protection personnel are employed.” A combination model would be composed of mostly paid personnel, with volunteers in the minority.
Other options exist, such as private sector fire-delivery services and consolidating police and fire services, each having flexible options therein.
The Brooksville Fire Department Interim Chief, Stan Mettinger said training and keeping volunteer firefighters would be tough, “It’s tough for anyone that has a 40-hour per week job, and they travel an hour to work each day, so that’s ten hours a day, five days a week, that’s 50 hours … then you’re going to require training at the firestation for one night a week, and pull a duty night, and maybe pull weekend duty … it’s time away from their family, and people are not willing to give up that time.” He went on to say that the usual scenario is for young academy graduates to work as a volunteer for experience, then eventually leave the department for full-time service elsewhere.
Hernando County Public Safety Director and Fire Chief Scott Hechler spoke of his agency’s current relationship with the Brooksville Fire Department, “Because we are a team, we work out side by side, we risk our lives together, (in the Brooksville station) they sleep under the same roof and eat together.” The county has been providing Advanced Life Support (ALS) services for Brooksville, who is a Basic Life Support (BLS) provider. Hechler reports that approximately 70% of emergency calls are medical in nature.
“It doesn’t matter where you sleep at night, it’s where you are,” Hechler said, acknowledging that consistent service, county-wide is important. “We bring to the table that consistency, that the entire county is together, and one, trying to provide services … from the totality of circumstances that might arise.” Hernando County Fire / Rescue (HCFR) currently provides hazardous materials (HAZ-MAT) response, as well as specialized aviation rescue. “We’re doing it today, and we’ll continue to do it tomorrow.
Hechler said that units have not dispatched by geographical area for several years, rather they use an Automatic Vehicle Locator system. Since the engines are usually in motion, the system can send the unit closest to the incident. Should Brooksville Fire and Rescue fall under the county’s purview, the city’s equipment would be absorbed by the county and be updated with the same technology. Hechler added that Brooksville unit would still bear Brooksville’s shield and insignia.
Vice Mayor Robert Battista did not have any questions, saying, “I found the interlocal agreement to be plain English … I understand it fully.” However, several more questions arose during the discussion, regarding the specifics of the Municipal Service Taxing Units (MSTU) and Benefit Units (MSBU) as well as a 2008 budget which Council Member Natalie Kahler referred to. She posed questions of Brooksville Fire’s command and personnel structure over the past ten years.
After a great deal of in-depth discussion of operations and personnel requirements and department management, Battista said, “My fear is … it’s the old ‘paralysis through analysis.’ We’re going to analyze and analyze … and you never get 100% … and something will change right when you think you’ve got it all down.”
Council Member Joe Bernardini agreed with Kahler that the 2008 budget should be studied. “If we close the door today, we have no other options.” Council Member William Kemerer added, “This is just our first workshop, and a lot of new information came out.” The council voted unanimously to revisit the topic in April, after all new information is considered. As of this writing, the date has not been announced.
The Hernando Sun will continue to follow developments relating to the Brooksville Fire Department.