News-Sun photo by CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY Firefighter Austin Maddox (left) and Lt. Craig Maranas gear up for a call at the Sun 'N Lake Fire Department.
published: Sunday, February 10, 2013
Hot discussion about firefighters in Sun 'N Lake
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- Sun 'N Lake supervisors voted unanimously to disband the fire department as it is currently organized and negotiate with the West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department to take over emergency services for the district.
During the meeting Friday morning, Administrator Michael Wright said money was a primary worry, as was concern that the current department were all part time. This means he said a two-man team is on duty for an eight-hour day shift, but for the remaining 16 hours, the community already relied on West Sebring.
Wright said the dilemma was in choosing the best long-term solution for Sun 'N Lake's future emergency issues.
On the one hand, the district did not have the experienced manpower to create a purely volunteer fire department, Wright said. The current force of 14 paid firefighters mostly work full time for other fire departments and receive advanced training from them. This saves the district considerable money. Training volunteers and maintaining standards would be expensive.
Wright said during the meeting Avon Park City Manager Julian Deleon told him it costs about $1 million annually to run a full-time fire department, and that would be without any pension costs.
There is another option, Wright told the supervisors.
Talks with Florida Hospital Heartland Division led the hospital to offer land (to which the hospital would retain title) so that a larger emergency complex could be built on Sun 'N Lake Boulevard east of the first traffic circle. Eventually, the center would contain county Emergency Medical Services, some kind of firefighter presence and a Highlands County Sheriff's Office sub-station.
The idea, Wright said, and the supervisors agreed, was to build the new complex with an eye to accommodating the future, growing into it over time.
County commission approval is needed for that kind of change.
Firefighters currently working at Sun 'N Lake expressed shock and dismay at the decision, which they said was a surprise. "There was no round table discussion," Lt. Craig Maranas said. "We have a lot of ideas of how to save money."
He added that the job was only part time. but losing the job would be a hardship for the firefighters who need it to make ends meet.
However, Maranas emphasized, their financial loss was not what worried him or his fellow firefighters about disbanding the department.
With two nursing homes, an elementary school, a middle school, a hospital and many doctor's offices in the area, as well as large areas of brush, and isolated houses, Maranas said, response time is his biggest concern.
"With a volunteer force," Maranas said, "the firefighters have to get to the station to get the truck before they can leave for the scene. That takes about five minutes, then there's the time it takes to get to the emergency. West Sebring's station is well to the south on Hammock Road," he said.
Maranas is just as concerned about losing the department's vast local store of knowledge.
"It's not like we just started yesterday," Maranas said. "We don't just know where the golf courses are; we know the quickest way to every hole on the course."
This, said Maranas, is a part of the hidden equation. When firefighters are called out, he said, but their services are refused upon arrival, the call does not count in the response statistics. This makes it seem as if a station is not as busy as it is, he said.
Maranas added, that doing away with the Sun 'N Lake department meant more work for the county, which would have to take over pre-fire inspections and other paperwork being done now.
Should an arrangement be worked out with West Sebring, Sun 'N Lake residents and property owners will be charged the county's $25 annual fire assessment towards the expense. The district currently charges a $32 annual fire assessment.
There was discussion among the supervisors as to whether or not to do away with the district's assessment, when the county's assessment takes effect. Some supervisors want to end the district's assessment, others feel future expenses for public safety -- whether contributing toward building the new complex, or buying new equipment -- means now is the proper time to save and prepare.
The final closure of the Sun 'N Lake Fire Department will be decided after approval by county commission and West Sebring VFD.
blindman (by: JOE ECK - 2/13/2013)
The homes that abut to the Golf COURSE has a fee added to there ASSESSMENT THAT WAS TO KEEP THE SPACE BETWEEN THE HOME OWNER AND GOLF COURSE.CLEARED..A Resoluation was passed back in 2003 or there about(when SEVERINO was on the board.) That never happened and there is hell being raised now about other PEOPLE CLEARING OR TRIMMING THAT AREA....
What Windy said! (by: Blindman - 2/11/2013)
Wow, this topic sure did draw some heat. Windy really whipped up a storm. Hopefully Sn'L has neighborhood codes so owners on the golf courses pay a higher tax rate by code instead of just value. Watch the firefighters too, even though firefighters/EMT's save people's lives, that's what their trained to do and they get paid for it. They will drain the community blood bank for life through higher taxes if you let them.
THE JOYS OF SNL (by: Sebring_Resident - 2/11/2013)
I am a resident of SNL. I have been so for 3 years now. I have enjoyed my life and home in SNL until we had an incident with a "RENTER" down the street from us. We called the SNL Security who then proceeded to tell us to call the Sheriff's Office. FOR SNL to have a security outfit who do not make us secure, I HATE IT. Then I had a local resident tell me that I should pay more than him in my Assessment Fees because I am a full-time resident in the district and that he shouldn't have to pay as much as I do, because he doesn't live there on a full-time basis. The SNL district has always been so kind to us and everytime we have called them about our sewer alarm box, they show up promptly. However, we had solicitors show up at our home 3 times in 2 weeks, the same people, I called SNL and asked about the No Solicitation Policy and asked for the documentation to show these people, I have yet to hear back from them. We used to enjoy keeping our windows open, our patio doors opened and our garage door opened, but not anymore with the "renter" issue and not anymore since I heard that there was several break-ins and that SNL did not want to alarm the residents...PLEASE ALARM US, keep us on high alert, so nobody gets hurt. Now, I feel like I have to keep locked up in my home like I did in the city of St. Louis. I hate this, I want to enjoy the nice and quiet and the beautiful scenery, but now, I just look at the curtians....So with the Fire Department disbanded, I hope we get a discount on our Assesment Fees, why pay for something that we no longer have access too. I don't think GOLFING is all that the SNL Board needs to worried about, their are plenty of people who want other activities in SNL besides the GOLF......
Firefghters S.N.L (by: JOE ECK - 2/10/2013)
FIRST OFF THE BOARD DID NOT VOTE TO DISBAND THE FIRE DEPARTMENT. THE BOARD VOTED FOR MR. WRIGHT TO DO SOME CHECKING AND BRING IT BACK. IF YOU GO TO SNL WEB SITE YOU CAN PULL UP THE AUDIO OF THE MEETING AND HERE WHAT WAS SAID. I DO NOT GO TO THE MEETING ANYMORE BECAUSE IT DOES NO GOOD TO TRY TO TALK TO THE BOARD IT IS ALL ABOUT THE GOLFERS AND WHEN I SAY GOLFERS IT IS NOT ALL OF THEM. THERE IS GOLFERS THAT DO NOT BELONG TO THE ASSOCIATION AND THE ONES THAT DO BELONG IS THE ONES THAT WANT EVERY HOUSE HOLD TO PAY TO KEEP THE GOLF GOING...(OUT OF THE GENERAL FUNDS OF ALL THE PEOPLE) AS FOR AS MR.CRAIG MARANAS I HAVE NEVER MEET THE MAN,BUT IT IS NOT THE PEOPLE OF S.N.L. THAT OWES THE FIREMAN A LIVING THAT THEY NEED A SECOND JOB. MAYBE THEY ARE LIVING TO HIGH OVER THERE INCOME.THE AREA AT THE HOSPITAL IS NOT THE PLACE FOR THE FIREHOUSE.I WROTE A COMMENT IN THE HIGHLANDS TODAY PAPER THIS MORNING AND IF YOU READ IT THAT IS WHAT I THINK SHOULD BE DONE.THANK YOU
Sun N Lakes Fire Department (by: Windy - 2/10/2013)
I feel I pay enough of money in dues to Sun N' Lakes and I see NOTHING out of it at all... Oh wait Yes a letter saying I can't park on my grass yet others have 4 cars parked on grass.. Have them take some of that money for the fire house... Golf it's all about Golf nothing else but golf... Hole in roads uncut grass but always golf... I pay way to much money to live here and for what? You have to pay to golf, to use pool, to use fitness room and now a gate on bridge... And now lose the fire department! Where is the money going?
IMPROVEMENT District? (by: Stat - 2/10/2013)
Oh my, $32 dollars A YEAR for rapid response fire protection? We the people of this district are insane paying that much money. If something doesn’t happen soon I see chapter seven looming for most of us in this district. Surely going to $25 A YEAR for volunteer response will save us from foreclosure and allow us to advance from PB&J to bologna sandwiches. Great job admin you’re the hero’s, we appreciate you looking after our well being. BTW does this switch increase the insurance rates for my home and my business?
(by: Kim - 2/10/2013)
Another thing he failed to mention is that there several times when an ambulance is called to the Sun N Lake area that the ambulance the primarily covers that may already be on another call. When this happens it means that an Avon Park ambulance has to take the call. When paid firefighter's are available, who is also medically trained, arrives on scene before an ambulance arrives. There have been and without a doubt will be several more occasions where that few minutes down to a few seconds would have been the difference between life or death. If a volunteer dept would respond it would take longer
Sun n Lake FD (by: Kim - 2/10/2013)
In response to a comments made by Micheal Wright, he was correct on one thing. The firefighters are only paid to be there for 8 hours a day BUT our records are public and we have proof that there were only a handful of calls through out the entire year of 2012 that there were no response from our off duty firefighters. A few of those calls where there was no response was due to being on another call at the time of that call . Another this he was correct about is that we are paid firefighters with a full time job, however what he didn't say is that we are all paid full-time EMT's or Paramedics. If you get a volunteer fire department to cover that area, they are first responders.
Sun n Lakes Fire (by: Michael Waldron - 2/10/2013)
Saving lives gets shortchanged for saving money....the firefighter makes good sense with his comments. Hammock Road is a long way to travel when precious seconds mean the difference between life and death....as well as property loss.
Sun n Lakes Fire (by: Mike Waldron - 2/10/2013)
Saving money over potentially saving lives ? This report has no mention of life being the primary concern. Why ? Presume that it was not mentioned..... curious as to what the majority of homeowners believe in.
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