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Rift develops among Pinellas fire chiefs over EMS

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's fire chief says he will no longer take part in the county fire chiefs group because the organization is not unified and does not reflect the St. Petersburg Fire Department's views when it comes to the future of emergency medical services.

Chief James Large, who stopped short of resigning from the group, made his announcement earlier this month in an e-mail to members of the Pinellas County Fire Chiefs Association.

The county has proposed changing the amount it will pay cities and fire districts to provide EMS service and the way the funding is calculated. St. Petersburg stands to lose millions in funding if the proposal is adopted. Other fire districts will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding, but others will gain under the proposal made by County Administrator Bob LaSala.

"We are disjointed as an organization," Large wrote in his e-mail. "This issue has the potential to seriously cripple much of what is in place. ... We, as system experts, have for the most part sat on our tongues, for reasons such as fear, comfort, apathy, you name it."

Large said his decision was triggered when the association's leader, Largo fire Chief Mike Wallace, did not oppose LaSala's recommendation during a meeting of the emergency medical services advisory council. The chiefs group had told Wallace, who was there to represent their views, to do so.

Large blamed Wallace's failure to follow the group's wishes on political pressure exerted, at least indirectly, by LaSala. He also blamed the disarray in the group on pressure from LaSala.

"LaSala called city managers and said control your fire chiefs," Large said. The chiefs association "has been successfully neutered, in my opinion, by LaSala."

Wallace could not be reached for comment. The group's vice chair, Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue Chief Robert Polk, said he was unable to comment on the organization's reaction to Large's e-mail. The group has not met since receiving the e-mail.

Polk said he has heard talk of intimidation and browbeating.

"There's some anecdotal information out there just in casual conversation where fire chiefs have said they were confronted by their city managers," Polk said. "I have heard some fire chiefs say that Mr. LaSala called their city manager. Whether that did or did not happen, that's what's being communicated."

LaSala denied the charges.

"I don't strong arm my professional peers, that's unprofessional. I wouldn't dignify those kinds of accusations any further."

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8450.

Rift develops among Pinellas fire chiefs over EMS 10/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 21, 2011 5:54pm]
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