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Former volunteer fire chief's pledge put to test

SEFFNER — Last month, former volunteer fire Chief Bradley Price made a promise.

For months, residents had asked him what he would do with the $325,000 in proceeds from the sale of the Seffner-Mango Volunteer Fire Department's defunct firehouse on Kingsway Road, which was built in large part with public donations.

Finally, Price said the money was being held by his nonprofit group — the remnants of the volunteer fire department that was shut down by the county in 2005.

Price said the group would dispense the money, a few thousand dollars at a time, to Seffner and Mango residents who lost their homes to fire and didn't have insurance.

Now, he might have to put that money where his mouth is.

When fire turned Marsha Webb's house into a sodden, sooty mess in January, there was nothing she could do.

The 54-year-old grandmother had no insurance because it was unaffordable after a sinkhole claim drove up her premium. And without insurance, she can't get a loan to rebuild.

She got a "project" credit line from Lowe's for $6,000, she said, and another credit card with a $5,000 limit. But that can't begin to touch her $90,000 worth of damage.

Her brothers have been working to rebuild the house in their spare time, she said. The work is going slowly.

When she heard about Price's plan, she said she'd take any help she could get.

For his part, when a reporter told Price about Webb's plight, Price said he wanted to help.

But first he needed to ask his board.

"I'll call the other board members and see what they think," he said.

Price first ran afoul of the county in 2005, when he was accused of sexually harassing a volunteer and posting nude pictures of himself on a dating Web site.

Before Hillsborough County Fire Rescue could investigate, Price resigned as chief and president of the volunteer company's board. Later, he was voted back onto the board and appointed himself "administrative chief" of the department.

The county responded by declaring the station unfit for habitation, citing mold problems.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Bill Nesmith confiscated the company's equipment and installed an all-new volunteer company in a cramped residential house down the street. The county plans to build a new permanent fire house later this year.

The old firehouse sold last summer. Residents criticized Price for holding on to the profits instead of donating them to the new volunteer department. But Price said he wanted to dole it out slowly to individuals instead.

"I want to stretch it out as long as I can," he said last month, "just to be a thorn in the side of Hillsborough County."

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 661-2442.

Former volunteer fire chief's pledge put to test 04/03/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 8, 2008 2:32pm]
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