Bronson OKs fire merger

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By Claude Lewis

BRONSON - After months of discussion and haggling, the proposed Bronson-Otter Creek fire department merger is finally on track to becoming reality.

By a 3-1 vote, Bronson Town Council approved a fire services agreement between the two departments at Monday's monthly meeting.

The merger contract, which had been waiting for Bronson's approval for months, now goes to the Levy County Commissioners for a final going over to become official.

The merger should be in place for the 2009 fiscal year.

Bronson fire chief Rick Lombardo has long been pressing for the merger. He claimed that it would give the tiny community of Otter Creek an ISO rating, which would reduce residents' insurance costs.

Lombardo said Bronson would benefit by being the recipient of Otter Creek's fire station, equipment and accrued assets.

Beatrice Mongo, the dissenting vote, had long questioned the merger. She believed Bronson would put itself at increased liability risk, plus she had concerns that added manpower could threaten the Bronson department's volunteer status.

Nevertheless, the merger is now on the fast track. The county, which gave preliminary approval three months ago, will now write up the final contract.

In other fire department news, chief Lombardo fired back at Town Clerk Donna Conquest, Town Attorney Stephen Warm and Mayor Franklin Schuler.

At July's meeting, the topic of Lombardo's health surfaced near the end of the night. Concerns were voiced over workers' compensation claims filed by Lombardo.

Conquest said the town received a letter from an attorney representing Lombardo, creating liability concerns.

Warm warned that Lombardo should present a doctor's release note before returning to firefighting duties.

Lombardo took exception to the issues being discussed at that meeting. He fired salvos at both Monday.

"I asked if there was anything else before I left," said Lombardo. "Then I find out that medical information - personal information - plus my Social Security number - was handed out and was made available to the media. Discussing my medical business in front of an audience, and it was the wrong medical information."

Conquest said she was never informed of a past workers' comp case involving Lombardo and knew nothing of another claim until mid July.

Lombardo insisted that the Town was informed of all claims and medical history.