Lutz members will be replaced by career staff
By Jeff Odom
The Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously Nov. 15 to staff the Lutz Volunteer Fire Station with career firefighters, despite pleas from the community and supporters.
The county will take control of the Lutz station, along with its other two remaining volunteer associations, on Jan. 1 as part of a new program.
Lutz Volunteer Fire Association president Jay Muffly said there isn’t anything the stations can do to change the commissioners’ ruling. He added that the community’s Independence Day celebration, which will celebrate Lutz’s centennial in 2013, could see some major changes next year.
“I really don’t know what to say,” Muffly said. “I guess the county and (Hillsborough County Fire Rescue) want to go in a different direction. You know, I don’t know how it will all turn out, but it just doesn’t look good, I’ll tell you that.”
Under the county’s new plan known as the Reserve Responder Program, 78 new career firefighting jobs have been added to replace the volunteers.
It is part of an approved $5.24 million budget, which is how much it will cost to add the new jobs.
The commissioners said volunteers will still be utilized to work with the career staffers, but not on the scale they have been for the last few decades. They said the hope is that, under the new program, those working as volunteers can gain more experience and increase their safety procedures by re-applying to the new reserve responder program. There, former volunteers can work with larger staffs in a path to becoming career firefighters, if they desire.
According to the 14-page document outlining the plan, reserve responders can also continue to help with community events like the Lutz Independence Day celebration.
In October, the county released an audit showing many volunteer stations in decline financially. While county leaders questioned the value of the volunteer association model, the Lutz association brought in $85,508 in membership dues, donations and community support.
Those volunteering at the Lutz station had hoped the continuous widespread support from the community would sway the county’s opinion, but in the end it did not.
Muffly said the Lutz station has been “one of the two best volunteer fire associations in the county” since it opened its doors in 1952. But with the massive changes looming in January, he said the landscape will be forever changed.