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Firefighter charged after 7-hour standoff

Before surrendering to the SWAT team and other police groups, the Spring Hill man threatened a deputy with a knife, officials say.

A seven-hour standoff came to an end early Wednesday morning when a Hillsborough County firefighter who authorities say had threatened a Hernando sheriff's deputy with a knife gave up and walked out of his home.

George F. Bartke, 41, was taken to Spring Hill Regional Hospital for treatment of minor cuts on his hand and face and was later transferred to Greenbrier Hospital for psychological evaluation. He faces a charge of assault on a law enforcement officer, according to Hernando County sheriff's reports.

"We just pretty much waited him out," sheriff's spokeswoman Deanna Dammer said.

Deputy Stacy Rodriguez was called to 2213 Cottondale Ave. about 5:15 p.m. on a report of a domestic disturbance. Rodriguez found Bartke sitting in front of a computer desk in the front room. When the deputy introduced himself, Bartke stood up and told him to get out, the reports said.

Bartke walked toward the deputy in an aggressive manner and pulled a knife from his waistband, reports said. Rodriguez pointed his .40-caliber handgun at Bartke and told him to stop and put the knife down.

The deputy retreated toward the door as Bartke's wife, Catherine Bartke, yelled at him not to shoot. Rodriguez again warned Bartke that if he kept advancing he would fire. Less than 10 feet separated the men.

When Bartke turned around to yell at his wife, Rodriguez opened the door and told her to run out, the report said. Her 14-year-old son, Steven, came out of his bedroom, and Rodriguez told him to run out, too.

Bartke then advanced toward Rodriguez, who was now standing outside the door. Another deputy arrived, at which point Bartke went back inside and locked the door.

More than a dozen deputies surrounded the home, which backs onto Elida Lake. They closed off Cottondale Avenue between Danforth and Arbuckle roads. Neighbors were asked to evacuate or stay inside.

The Sheriff's Office crisis negotiation team contacted the man by phone. Initially they were not sure if he had any guns in the home. SWAT team members, dressed in body armor, arrived about 6:30 p.m. and positioned themselves around the one-story house. At 8:15 p.m., deputies brought one of the man's friends from Bushnell to talk to him. The SWAT team leader could be heard on the police radios telling the team to try to use non-lethal methods to subdue the man if he exited the home brandishing a knife.

At that point, the standoff turned into a waiting game.

The negotiators continued to talk with Bartke on and off, Dammer said.

"He wasn't making any threats. No one was believed to be in danger," Dammer said. "As long as he's still talking, still communicating, we will often wait it out."

At just past midnight, Bartke walked out the front door. He was very upset, the reports said, and refused to cooperate with commands. When he tried to walk back into the house, the SWAT team moved in and tackled him. No one was seriously hurt.

The police reports said that Bartke was on a nine-month leave of absence from Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. His wife told deputies that he was extremely depressed about a recent illness, the report said.

Bartke is a company fire captain with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, according to Chief Bill Kaplan. That means he is in charge of a truck, along with the driver and one or two firefighters who work on the truck, Kaplan said.

He has been employed by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue for more than 18 years, Kaplan said. Bartke came up through the ranks, starting as a firefighter and advancing to driver and then captain.

_ Tims staff writer Sarah Schweitzer contributed to this report.