Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Two more volunteer fire companies in Hillsborough close

TAMPA — Two more volunteer fire companies are closing up shop and turning over operations to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue amid questions over county funding.

The North Brandon Volunteer Fire Association and Dover-Turkey Creek Volunteer Fire Department informed county officials Monday that they would cease operations. The Cork-Knights volunteer department told the county last week it could no longer staff the fire station at 5302 W Thonotosassa Road.

All three units are now covered by Fire Rescue's career personnel, said Chief Ron Rogers.

The change comes on the heels of an audit that asked Hillsborough County to reassess using six volunteer firefighter associations because of costs and questions over the qualifications and experience levels of volunteer firefighters.

The audit also found financial breeches by two organizations, Cork-Knights and Dover-Turkey Creek, which could not produce the tax records required of nonprofits.

Funding was recently yanked for both of those groups.

Then last week, Fire Rescue officials told the rest of the volunteer associations not to count on future funding. The county is "conducting a thorough review of the contracts and audit findings," County Administrator Mike Merrill told commissioners in a memo Monday.

Each association had a $49,950 annual contract with the county, which expired Sept. 30.

Even if they do get funding, volunteer units face new spending limitations. County executives recently asked attorneys whether the contract with the professional firefighters union permitted expenditures of public money on stipends for volunteer firefighters, Rogers said.

The answer was no.

Mark Curtis, president of the Dover-Turkey Creek unit, said in a letter to commissioners that Rogers has been trying to put the volunteer units out of business and is succeeding.

"It is with the current Fire Chief Ron Rogers and his lack of respect that is the catalyst for our departure," Curtis wrote in the letter.

Rogers said he didn't set out to target the volunteer units. "The reality is it's part of the audit and it's taking a look at everything we're doing," he said.

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