By Andy Warrener
The Laker/Lutz News Correspondent
Volunteer fire stations in Hillsborough County will soon be a memory.
According to fire chief Ron Rodgers, the implementation of the new reserve responder program will take effect Jan. 1 to replace volunteers at various stations around the county, including the 50-year-old station in Lutz.
There will no longer be stations run entirely by volunteers once the new program takes effect. Many citizens of Lutz and the members of the Lutz Volunteer Firefighter’s Association were not happy with this decision.
“They (Board of County Commissioners) can’t point to any reason why they would shut us down,” said association board member and its former president Ben Fisher. “Our department did not fail in its function. They want it to be union and that’s it.”
To Fisher’s credit, Rodgers said that there were “far fewer” problems in Lutz than with the other volunteer associations.
Despite the lack of issues to warrant replacing the volunteers in Lutz, the county plans to move forward with implementing the reserve responder program, which will still allow volunteers to help fight fires. The primary motivating factor was liability of the county.
“The volunteer program as a whole had to be treated the same,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers did go on to acknowledge the Lutz Volunteer Association.
“We certainly appreciate the effort that you (the association) have put into it,” Rodgers said.
One of the biggest logistical changes that will take place is the way shifts are run.
Volunteer stations run very different than regular ones in the county or city of Tampa. The current system of an individual firefighter working a 24-hour shift and then having 48 hours off will now be the way all Hillsborough stations run.
There was concern that the potential volunteers would not be able to meet the demands of such long shifts as most of them, if not all, have day jobs.
Another concern was that the volunteers or reserve responders would be used for menial jobs around the station and not go out on calls or receive training.
Division chief Frank Fernandez attempted to alleviate those fears by stating “their (volunteers) schedule will be up to them to work out with the chief at the station in particular.”
Deputy chief David Travis added, “We want to create a pool of quality candidates from volunteers.”
Current association president Jay Muffly brought up all the community events the Lutz Volunteer Fire Department participates in and asked how those traditions would continue with the new reserve responder program.
Rodgers responded to Muffly’s concerns by saying, “Each reserve responder will be required to participate in 24 hours of community service each year.”
Rodgers failed to outline how exactly those hours would be spent and did not mention if the full-time firefighters would also be required to participate. Many amenities and special programs, such as the new restrooms at Nye Park, the annual chicken barbecue at the Lutz Independence Day Celebration and Lutz’s centennial, among others, are now up in the air unless the new county employees can find a way to work together with the association to pull them off.
Muffly put it simply: “It’s the end of an era.”
THOMAS SIMEK SR says
I guess youll be able to call them janitors because that all there going to be to paid unions. I hope the taxpayers will be able to keep their homes when their taxes go sky high to pay for the additional firefighters there going to have to hire. Again the unions win,when are these politicans going to realize that these fire unions all they want is to bankrupt the counties.