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After long wait, Seffner-Mango gets new fire station

Engine 18 sits in the drive of the new Station 18 in Seffner as Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Bill Nesmith talks to a crowd in the garage bay of the station during a grand-opening ceremony of Seffner-North Brandon Fire Rescue Station No. 18.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Engine 18 sits in the drive of the new Station 18 in Seffner as Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Bill Nesmith talks to a crowd in the garage bay of the station during a grand-opening ceremony of Seffner-North Brandon Fire Rescue Station No. 18.

SEFFNER — There were allegations of sexual harassment. Then came the nude photos the fire chief posted of himself online.

Four years later, a new station has emerged from the scandal-ridden Seffner-Mango Volunteer Fire Department. While some volunteers remain bitter over the fallout and others question what happened to thousands of dollars in department funds, most are content to focus on the future.

With the snip of a pair of scissors Friday, Hillsborough County officials dedicated the new $1.6 million Seffner-North Brandon Fire Rescue station. County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Fire Rescue Chief Bill Nesmith attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, commending the volunteers for their work and patience during the rebuilding.

The station is one of the busiest in the county, fielding more than 200 calls a month with 35 volunteers.

"This volunteer station has come a long way," said Nesmith, standing inside the bay of the 7,300-square-foot building. "The guys and gals here have endured a lot. But it's an outstanding station, the first brand-new one built for volunteers."

In 2005, Nesmith disbanded the Seffner-Mango department.

The county accused former chief Bradley Price of poor management practices after he posted nude pictures of himself from his home computer on an Internet dating site. In some photos, he wore his department uniform.

Price, whose father, Henry Price, founded the station in 1960, was accused of sexually harassing a female volunteer as well. He was later cleared by the department's board.

At the time, the county also declared the Seffner-Mango department building unfit for habitation because of mold. They confiscated equipment and moved firefighters into a two-bedroom house until the new station was complete in September.

In the meantime, Price stepped down as chief. Months later, he re-emerged as "administrative chief" on the department's board, of which he was also president.

Those were positions Price, 53, held until several months ago when he said the defunct department's fire board finally disbanded. The board gave its leftover equipment to fire departments in northern Florida.

Price said all funds received from the sale of the old fire station two years ago, and other money in the group's treasury from community donations, have been donated to Lighthouse Ministries, a nonprofit that helps poor and at-risk residents. Some of the money also went to a resident who lost her home to fire and to the family of a firefighter who was killed, Price said.

In all three cases, Price would not specify how much money was given away.

"It's all gone, it's over," Price said this week. "There should not be questions ever asked again. We donated it to (Lighthouse) because they do things for people in the community.

"But it's not like people will believe me when I say that's where the money went."

County records show that NRG Investments bought the old station for $325,000 in 2007.

In May, the Seffner-Mango fire department made a $200,000 donation to Lighthouse Ministries, officials at the nonprofit said. The department also gave the group a small piece of land, last appraised at about $26,000, near the old fire station.

Chief Robert Van Etten, head of Seffner-North Brandon Fire Rescue, still smarts about what happened to the hundreds of thousands of dollars he said the old fire department had from the sale of the station and in community donations.

Van Etten estimated there is at least $200,000 more not accounted for.

He has tried to get the money back from the Prices, whom he said controlled the funds as the remaining board members. Though he holds Henry Price in high regards, he doesn't think much of the founding family of the department he runs.

"They did some bad things," he said, "and there's no forgiving."

A version of this story appeared Friday in a regional edition. Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com, or (813) 661-2454.

After long wait, Seffner-Mango gets new fire station 12/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 5, 2009 12:02am]

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