Controversy in the past, Seffner gets new fire station

SEFFNER — Four years after a scandal rocked the Seffner-Mango Volunteer Fire Department, a new fire station has emerged.

The station stands at the corner of S Kingsway and Cactus roads, a $1.6 million end to years of turmoil that has left some still feeling bitter. For those who continue to fight fires, it has been a long wait.

"It's a beautiful building," Chief Robert Van Etten said. "We're so appreciative of the county doing this for our community. Without the volunteers, we'd be in trouble."

The department is one of the busiest in the county, fielding 200 calls a month. Firefighters moved into the 7,300-square-foot building in September, four years after county officials forced them to abandon the old station on S Kingsway Road for a two-bedroom house.

Today, Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean and the fire rescue staff plan to be present for Station No. 18's grand opening.

Renamed Seffner-North Brandon Fire Rescue, the tan stucco and brick building will house 35 volunteer firefighters, a fire engine, brush truck and soon-to-arrive tanker. Stainless-steel appliances gleam inside the kitchen, and bunker gear hangs neatly in a special temperature-controlled room.

"This is way better than what we had before," Assistant Chief Patrick Ritson said this week. "We are very pleased to be here."

Four years ago, firefighters were in a much different situation. In 2005, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue disbanded the Seffner-Mango department.

The county accused the former department's chief, Bradley Price, of poor management practices after he posted nude photos of himself from his home computer on an Internet dating site. Price was also accused of sexually harassing a female volunteer. He was later cleared by the department's board.

The county also declared the Seffner-Mango Volunteer Fire building unfit for habitation due to mold. They confiscated equipment, and Price stepped down as chief. Five 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. Price said the board gave its leftover equipment to fire departments in northern Florida.

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, he said.

In 2008 Price told the Times, he also aided a Seffner resident, who was uninsured when her home burned, and the family of a county fire captain who was fatally shot. Before he decided to donate to Lighthouse earlier this year, Price had said he intended to give money to people who lost their homes to fire or to firefighters or their families.

In all three cases, Price would not specify how much money he donated.

"It's all gone, it's over," Price said from his Seffner home this week. "There should not be questions asked ever again. We donated it to them 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 at 1706 S Kingsway Road for $325,000 in 2007.

In May, the Seffner-Mango fire department made a $200,000 donation to Lighthouse Ministries, said Steve Turbeville, the nonprofit's executive director. The group, which helps poor and at-risk residents, used the money to buy its store in Brandon. It opened in August.

Turbeville also said the department gave the nonprofit a small piece of land, last appraised at about $26,000, near the old fire station.

But closure doesn't take away the disappointment for Bradley Price, and his father, Henry Price. The elder Price, 84, founded the Seffner-Mango Volunteer Fire Department in 1960. They live together on the same property in Seffner. Neither of the men had anything to say about the new building. "We're not allowed to go on fire department property," Henry Price said, sitting in his motorized wheelchair. "It was a disappointment, as many years as we worked."

Chief Van Etten still smarts about not knowing exactly what happened to money from the sale of the old fire station and from community donations. What's more, he said, residents his department serves are confused between the new and old department. Some community members accuse the new administration of stealing money donated to the old department and refuse to support the new station, Van Etten said.

For the past four years, Van Etten said he has tried to get the money back from the Prices, whom he said controlled the funds as the remaining board members. He said he holds Henry Price in high regard. But his respect for the founding family of the department he now runs only goes so far. "They did some bad things, and there's no forgiving."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com, or (813) 661-2454.

Controversy in the past, Seffner gets new fire station 12/03/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 3, 2009 3:31am]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...