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Firefighters' needs should be priority in Clearwater

About nine months ago you published my letter that urged that we in Clearwater take a careful look at our Fire Department to ensure that it met the highest standards in every respect. I had learned as a member of the Fire Department Task Force that we did not meet the national standard that calls for four firefighters per truck.

From what I've read recently in the Times, it appears that the deadly fire at Dolphin Cove disclosed possible equipment problems in addition to those involving personnel standards. Hopefully, our careful study of this disastrous high-rise fire will point out any area that must be improved, and we will immediately take corrective action.

No one likes increased taxes, but I still believe that most Clearwater citizens would agree that full funding for excellent fire and police departments should be our highest budgetary priority. Dolphin Cove has shown us how much we need our dedicated firefighters outfitted with the very best equipment.

Bill Schwob, Clearwater

Goal on firefighting should be higher

Re: Firefighters ask for too much, city says, story, July 21.

I find it somewhat amusing that our distinguished Clearwater mayor, Brian Aungst, would accuse the firefighters of leading a "misinformation campaign" and "taking comments out of context." This is the result of carrying on discussions through the media outlets instead of face to face, something both sides are guilty of.

Self-examination is necessary here, and it is no secret that somewhere between the two sides lies the whole truth. My ultimate concern is safety, which, of course, is dependent upon training, staffing and equipment. Unfortunately, all those things bring us back to money, and that will always be our stumbling block.

What cannot be lost sight of is the simple fact that the money in question belongs to the citizens of this community, and, as elected and hired representatives of that community, we must spend it wisely.

Lies and half truths? I don't think anyone will dispute that the city has come a long way in the recent past. The problem is where we were coming from. Yes, equipment has been purchased and employees have been added. However, can we be content by just improving on what we were or should we continue to try to provide the best possible service?

I have several questions in reference to comments made in the July 21 story regarding staffing. "The city has hired more than 26 firefighters since 1999." How many firefighters left the department during that time period? How many of those hired went to combat positions? Administrative positions are necessary, but they are not able to carry a high-rise pack up the stairs to a fire floor. How many of those hired since 1999 are still on the line?

National Fire Protection Association standards can be met and exceeded without providing the best protection available, be it equipment standards or staffing standards. I also question the comment that, "No city in the state of Florida" runs four-person engines. Is this completely accurate?

I don't know the answers to all of these questions, but since it is the stance that the city is taking, I look to them for the answers.

We appreciate the ground we have gained, yet we are still far from "the Cadillac." We may even settle for a Lincoln. The question is, what would the citizens of our community prefer?

Doug Swartz, Largo

Cities must make effort to be appealing

Re: Quality summer theater sorely missed, letter, July 17.

After reading the numerous letters regarding the Largo Library and the one from the letter writer who was disappointed about the lack of a summer musical by the Clearwater City Players this summer, it is my view that communities that don't invest in themselves face stagnation or, at worst, deterioration.

There must be some vision with regard to current and future generations when civic buildings or programs are considered. It should be obvious that such places and opportunities make communities desirable places in which to live and that they attract good businesses and citizens _ and yes, they do have a price tag.

I have lived in Largo for 43 years. I served on the staff of the historical society's anniversary publication, designed the flag of Largo as a college student and have performed with the Clearwater City Players since 1977 and with Largo's former Footlight Theatre in the late '70s. It has been a delight to see Largo Central Park and the Largo Cultural Arts Center develop and become realities, and it has been a unique privilege to have performed in City Players musicals from my teens to my 40s.

I am a high school teacher now, and live on a modest income, but I heartily endorse any efforts to build a state-of-the art library in Largo or to continue Clearwater's musicals; in fact, I would recommend that Clearwater's Cultural Arts Department create a season of shows, not just the summer production that is so sorely missed this season. Both of these projects would seem desirable goals for Largo and Clearwater.

Karl R. Meinecke, Largo

Leave control of north sandbar as it is

As a volunteer for the past four years with the Gulf Islands GEOpark, it troubled me to read the article in the St. Petersburg Times July 4 on State Rep. Mike Fasano's letter asking the governor and the Cabinet to reconsider leaving the sandbar north of Anclote Key under the jurisdiction of the Division of Parks and Recreation.

I have spent many hours as a volunteer on Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island and Anclote Key. From September 2000 to February 2002 I lived on Egmont Key as a temporary ranger and a volunteer. On three different occasions on Egmont Key I saw dogs in a roped-off area of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife sanctuary with birds and a turtle in their mouths. I attended to children with cut feet from broken beer bottles, picked up many broken bottles and saw a gopher tortoise mutilated after a young boy drove a steel rod through its shell.

A letter to the Times on July 8 was also very disturbing. The letter writer stated that the Gulf Islands GEOpark is losing money hand over fist, when in fact the GEOpark makes a very respectable profit for the Florida Park System. It was also stated that the GEOpark did an uncontrolled burn on Anclote Key, when, in fact, it was arson.

I encourage Gov. Bush and his Cabinet to leave the north sandbar under the jurisdiction of the Division of Parks and Recreation for the protection of wildlife and all park visitors. With these simple rules and policies in place, the Florida state parks can and will remain the best in the nation for all to enjoy.

James W. Stouder, Dunedin

Homeowners, take part in associations

Re: As they feud, their community declines, story, July 8.

Still another article about problems in a homeowner or condo association. They seem to appear almost monthly.

The bottom-line cause of most association problems is apathy. Owners do not understand or make an effort to understand that they are part of the association and have a responsibility to participate.

To come home, close your door and ignore your responsibility allows others to make decisions. It gives them the power to devalue your property, involve you in costly litigation and otherwise make your life miserable.

Wake up and get involved! The next article could be about your association.

Molly Davis, Clearwater

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