Stew Lilker’s

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A Countywide Fire Department080423_LCFD Truck
The Issue Is People – Not Money
Columbia County Florida (posted April 28, 2008)
by Stew Lilker

April 23, 2008 should have been a bright spot in City/County relations when representatives from the City and the County sat down to talk about one countywide fire department. One might have thought this would have combined the dedicated first responders of the City with those of the County. Unfortunately, the talks were not pointed in that direction. The issue should have been people. Instead it was money.

The Observer has learned that prior to the Wednesday, April 23d meeting, some members of the LCFD were trying to find out where and when the City/County meeting was going to be held. “We just wanted to observe the meeting,” one LC fireman said. “On Tuesday, we asked Scott Reynolds (city manager) when the meeting was and where it was going to be held. He just ignored the question.”

Morale in the LCFD appears to be at an all time low. It is not difficult to understand why.

080423_Fire meeting participantsAt 3 p.m. on April 23d, the City/County meeting began in the county commission conference room. Representing the City were Councilman Mike Lee and City Manager Scott Reynolds. Attending for the County were Commissioners Stephen Bailey and George Skinner and County Manager, Dale Williams. Also in attendance were the Lake City Reporter and the Lake City Journal. No representatives from the LCFD were in attendance.

Councilman Lee began, “We have to ask the big question… Do we think it is advantageous to all the citizens to have one fire department? … We have to get the mind set if that’s the thing to do…

Councilman Lee continued, “This is not a real easy thing from the human standpoint. It’s really tough on our firefighters. We have some good guys over there and they get nervous when we start talking about this. I think we all feel this way. None of this is intended to do away with anybody’s job, even though if we merge that would certainly be one of the consequences. I don’t think it’s government’s job to create jobs, it’s government’s role to provide service.”

The group discussed ISO ratings, equipment transfers, EMS, police dispatch, use of the downtown LCFD fire station and the call center. As usual for the county in these kinds of meetings, no one was there taking any sort of minutes so that a record would be had of the meeting.

Incredibly, the first responders of the LCFD were almost an afterthought. It was obvious that Commissioner Bailey and the County were out to bust the union local of the LCFD and get rid of the senior fire fighters, the folks that have been putting their lives on the line for all the people of Lake City and Columbia County for years and years.

While it certainly appeared simple to focus on the Columbia County Fire Department and the LCFD, Commissioner Bailey showed the county’s hand when he said, “The sticking point for the board will be EMS and Fire being separate.” Of course, EMS and Fire are separate, but the County most always finds a wedge issue to impede progress when it comes to working with the city for the betterment of all the people of Columbia County.

Finally, the fears of the LCFD firefighters and the union busting tactics of the County came to a head when Commissioner Bailey said, “The question is, do we have to take their personnel? And no, as far as I’m concerned, the union is a non-issue because we will hire our own people.”

City Manager Scott Reynolds followed up, “Over the past three years this question has come up … and they’re ready for it.”

County Manager Dale Williams explained what he thought happened in the real world. “When we get to the point that we’re going to do this, we are going to have x number of people for this department. We establish a job description, a ranking and a pay grade. Anybody, whether existing fireman or not, can apply, as long as they meet the minimum requirements. A lot of these people because of their seniority, they may not be willing to look at some of these jobs, because some of their salaries change dramatically.”

What is the thanks that Columbia County wants to give the fire fighters of the LCFD for building careers by being willing to put their lives on the line for the people of Columbia County, some for ten, fifteen or twenty years? “You can apply for a job just like everyone else.”

Everyone the Observer has spoken to believes that one countywide fire department is in the best interests of everyone in the county, but no one likes the way the County is going about it.

Bob Long said, “Guys that have twenty years of service shouldn’t be told that they have to reapply for a job. That’s totally unacceptable.”

Rita Hetrick said, “That’s pretty snotty. I don’t think that’s right. They should be merged.”

Arline Craft said, “You can’t just throw these guys out. They do a great job. I’m not for that.”

Finally, one long time Columbia County employee (name withheld) told the Observer after hearing of Commissioner Bailey’s remarks, “This is not the way you merge. That’s a deal killer to me. That’s absolutely unacceptable. You have to have respect on both sides.”


Associated documents:

April 23, 2008: Abbreviated transcript -- what they said in  their own words.

March 5, 2008: Letter from City Manager to County.

March 17, 2008: Letter from County Manager to City. The list of questions.

April 24, 2008: Lake City Reporter story, not available on the net.

April 24, 2008: Lake City Journal Story.