Sun N’ Lake supervisors on Friday tabled an agenda item that would have dissolved their fire department and replaced paid firefighters with volunteers.
District Executive Michael Wright said he met last week with County Administrator June Fisher and asked if Highlands would build a $300,000 station on Florida Hospital property that would serve EMS, the West Sebring Fire Department and the sheriff’s department. Construction could begin in late summer or early fall.
Supervisors balked at building Sun N’ Lake property on land owned by another government or hospital.
“Why are we putting up a building in our district that’s going to belong to the county?” Supervisor Richard Hulbert asked. He also didn’t want the county to own a building on district land.
Wright urged the supervisors to move before June 30, the deadline for the tax assessor to put a $25 West Sebring VFD fee on the Sun N’ Lake tax rolls.
“In simplistic terms, the District must have reliable fire protection,” Wright wrote in a March 30 letter to the supervisors. “Without it, insurance costs would dramatically increase and public safely would be affected.”
Wright said WSVFD is better equipped than SNLFD. “There is no comparison between what we have and what they have.”
“I think the time has come,” Wright said.
“I’m not sure I want to go with this,” said Hulbert. “It seems to me if we give up a paid fire department today because we only have them eight hours a day instead of 24, in two or three years it’s going to cost us even more money to buy all this equipment back. I think we ought to keep building on what we have instead of getting rid of what we have.”
“It’s going to cost you a million if you go back,” said Lt. Craig Marans.
“It’s going to cost you millions anyway,” Supervisor Chairman Dave Halbig said. “Everybody needs to understand that.”
“We didn’t have any problem building a $3.5 million clubhouse,” Miller said.
“What’s going to happen to the big fire truck?” Supervisor Curt McCullough asked.
“I recommend we lease it to them,” Wright replied. “They would eventually replace it.”
What about the other fire equipment, McCullough asked.
“It would belong to the district,” Wright said.
“Once you give the fire service over to the county, you have no control,” warned Marans. “You can’t say, ‘We need trucks out there on the Fourth of July.””
If supervisors followed another suggestion and kept the current paid firefighters on as EMTs, they wouldn’t have authorization or the equipment to respond to fires, he reminded.
And, Wright added, the West Sebring chief and assistant chief don’t have confidence in the Sun N’ Lake first responders.
Marans lobbied for an alternative: to pay firefighters for 24-hour-per-day service.
“If you were to go to 24 hours, where are you going to get the rest of the people?” Hulbert asked.
“I have the people lined up,” Marans said.
“We’re on shaky ground aren’t we?” Supervisor Dick Miller asked. “Guys who work for $10 an hour? That’s going to wear thin pretty quickly. Any way we go, we have to go with a very firm foundation. It’s not for the short haul, it’s for the long haul.”
Following a money discussion, supervisors realized they didn’t have the figures needed for a decision and asked Wright to assess the costs of equipment, personnel and a building for a full-time department.