Monday, November 20, 2017
Editorials

Hillsborough needs full-time firefighting force

RECOMMENDED READING


Hillsborough County should replace its volunteer firefighters with full-time professionals. That's the only responsible conclusion to draw from a recent audit that found numerous problems and only modest cost savings from using the volunteers. Replacing the ranks with professionals puts public safety first. It's not cheap, but it makes financial sense.

Hillsborough County runs the largest fire rescue operation in the state, and outside auditors recently praised it for "strong leadership," a "high sense of responsibility" and "unity of command." These are high marks for an urban county that hired its first full-time firefighters not 40 years ago. They speak to the department's ability to handle the increasingly complex tasks that firefighters must handle, from containing hazardous spills to answering medical and rescue calls.

Auditors, though, singled out the county's use of volunteers, and recommended that officials "further evaluate" whether it is cost-effective or valuable. As the study pointed out, volunteers "are not free" — the county spends more than $1.5 million per year in operational expenses for the volunteer units, largely to pay salary and overtime for career firefighters who must staff the stations when volunteer crews run short. Volunteers don't have the same skills and experience, and communication between the two groups is a problem. That is a serious issue in an operation where lives depend on teamwork and a strong chain of command.

Volunteers are widely used across the country, and they fill critical holes in the emergency response system for hundreds of small communities. But Hillsborough needs professionals to provide the level of service that growing urban counties expect. Its 150-volunteer crew is outsized for a career force of 800 firefighters. Hillsborough, for example, uses five times more volunteers than Orange County, which is similar in size. And the turnover rate for volunteers is 50 percent.

The audit estimates that the cost of turning over operations to an all-career force would be an additional $3.5 million per year. The county could phase in that expense over time, and soften the impact by creating a "reserve" force that still gives volunteers a career track into a full-time job. Even in these tough times, the amounts are reasonable. County administrator Mike Merrill and Fire Rescue Chief Ron Rogers will discuss the audit's findings today. This is not the first or last conversation on the use of volunteers, and the final decision rests with county commissioners. They should all recognize that switching to a full-time professional force is the best for public safety and quality of life.

Comments
Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

In a state with the nation’s highest portion of residents over 65 years old and more than 80,000 nursing home beds, public records about those facilities should be as accessible as possible. Yet once again, Florida is turning back the clock to the da...
Updated: 9 minutes ago

Another voice: A time of reckoning on sexual misconduct

Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive out...
Updated: 9 minutes ago

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17