By Tamas Mondovics
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue’s volunteer staffing changes took center stage this month during a series of community meetings.
Led by Fire Chief Ron Rogers and other Fire Rescue personnel, the meetings informed residents of the end of the six volunteer-staffed fire stations within the county, as well as the introduction of a new reserve responder program.
“Six volunteer fire stations including North Brandon, Dover-Turkey Creek, Cork-Knights near Plant City as well as Bloomingdale, Lutz and Sundance, and approximately 175 volunteers will be replaced as of Tuesday, January 1, 2013 with 78 new firefighters at a cost of $5.2 million,” Rogers said.
The plan is the result of a task force, which included representatives from three volunteer associations, county staff, and other experts and was assembled after a Performance Audit report was presented to the Board earlier this year.
“The goal was to shape a future volunteer model, evaluate the current program, and to propose options for the future,” Rogers said adding that the audit revealed concerns and discrepancies with experience, accountability, staffing or training issues, just to name a few.
Rogers said that due to the 50 percent turnover within the volunteer staff, some stations used volunteers that were not fully qualified or lacked training.
“With the change, our desire is to produce the same level of service that is present at all of the 42 stations throughout the county,” Rogers said.
Along with notifying the communities of the change, the purpose of the discussion also addressed how residents can continue to be involved with the daily operation of each station, which will now be staffed primarily by career firefighters.
“Hillsborough County plans to preserve the spirit of volunteer fire service while addressing the significant concerns with the existing volunteer staffing model as outlined in a recent Fire Rescue Performance Audit,” Rogers said.
According to Fire Rescue Deputy County Administrator of Public Safety and Community Services, Sharon Subadan, the new Reserve Responder program will provide an opportunity for more volunteers, while maintaining a high level of service at each station.
“Through the Reserve Responder Program, volunteers who meet the minimum criteria are eligible to be a Reserve Firefighter I; Reserve Firefighter II; Reserve Firemedic I; Reserve Paramedic; Reserve Fire Officer; Reserve Specialist; or sit on the Reserve Advisory Committee,” Subadan said.
Recruiting events were scheduled to be held on Saturday, December 1 and 15, 2012 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Headquarters, 2709 E. Hanna Ave. in Tampa. Subadan said that the Reserve Responder Program includes fostering of volunteerism in fire rescue, building a pool of eligible candidates for future employment, opportunities for promoting workforce diversity, full accountability with consistent staffing, training levels and experience and enhanced safety and effectiveness through the addition of reservists to existing career crews.
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue started as an all-volunteer organization in the 1950s, and hired its first full-time career firefighters in 1973.
Since then, the department has steadily evolved into one of the largest, most progressive departments in the state, answering more than 80,000 calls per year.
For more information about Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, please visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org.