Chiefland weighs firefighter needs

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

The Chiefland City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to keep John Ward on as Chiefland's fire chief.

Vice Mayor and Commissioner Teresa Barron said, "It's been a pleasure working with Ward."

He's worked hard at getting his required certifications for the position and is not shy about learning new things, she said.

The other commissioners agreed, though Commissioner Rollin Hudson was curious about Ward's relationship with Levy County officials.

More precisely put, Hudson was curious to know why, in his opinion, Levy County was not giving enough money to the Chiefland Fire Department.

Ward said that he believed the city of Chiefland was not aggressive enough, initially, in its pursuit of money from the county.

Later, in a separate agenda item, Ward stood up and asked that the commissioners allow the fire department to apply for a federal grant to help cover the costs of three new firefighters.

The grant, known as the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, would help to offset the lack of money provided by the county, Ward said.

Currently, he said, the fire department is barely able to comply with a federally mandated rule that requires at least four firefighters to be present when fighting structural fires.

Specifically, in cases of structural fires, the rule says that at least two firefighters enter a "hazardous atmosphere," and at least two other fire fighters remain clear of the hazard.

"God forbid one of these stores or businesses catches on fire and I can't legally send them (firefighters) in," Ward said.

Ward, who grew up in Chiefland and got into firefighting to help the community he grew up with, said the number of calls the fire department receives increases each year.

In 2007, there were 990 calls. That's more than twice the amount received in 2005, Ward said.

And with the planned construction of a new hospital, he said, there's even more justification to get new firefighters.

"We can't continue running a haphazard show," Ward said. "Today, the fire department was me...and that's it."

But commissioners were undecided in their decision to allow an application for federal money. Hudson and Barron said the grant, which is good for only the first few years, might lock the city into a financial obligation that it might not be able to afford later on.

The commissioners said the matter would be decided at the next meeting.