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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Pete's mayor has his own blue light special



Foster ST. PETERSBURG -- Bill Foster likes to be where the action is in his city. No, not at City Council. The mayor likes to be out on the streets with the city’s police officers and firefighters.

He stays out late, past his bedtime, visiting crime and fire scenes. He has his own police radio and call sign -- “X0.” He even radioed for back-up once during a disturbance near city hall. (Read more about that here.)

But it turns out the mayor also has another piece of police equipment: a portable flashing blue emergency light for his city-owned vehicle.

But don’t expect him to go all Starsky and Hutch anytime soon.

“It’s not for pulling over cars or fighting crime,” Foster said. “There might be an occasion where I’m at a scene or I need to respond to something that requires my immediate attention.”

Say, a natural disaster or another kind of catastrophic event in the city. The mayor said he would never use the emergency light to speed to a scene. But he could put it on his dashboard, plug it into his cigarette lighter and use it to get through a secure perimeter or safely park at an emergency scene.

“It’s just to make sure that I’m visible,” Foster said. “I didn’t even know about. It came with the job.“

It’s the same light former mayor Rick Baker had in his city vehicle, said Police Chief Chuck Harmon. Baker never used it, the chief said, and he’s not even sure if the former mayor even took it out of the box

Harmon gave it to Baker some years back after a particularly bad storm, figuring next time it could help the mayor more safely enter an emergency scene.

“I basically told him he could use it to get past the initial perimeter or if he had to park at a critical city emergency,” Harmon said.

The chief told the current mayor how to safely use it. Florida law regulates who's allowed to use emergency lights. But city attorneys cleared the mayor to use the blue light.

The mayor said it’s in the backseat of his city vehicle and that’s where it will probably stay.

“I told the chief I’m afraid to use it,” Foster said.

-- Jamal Thalji, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 3:41pm]


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