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Volunteer fire department in Hernando shuts down due to lack of trained firefighters

Published Mar. 23, 2015

BROOKSVILLE — The High Point Volunteer Fire Department has taken itself out of service due to a shortage of volunteers with adequate medical training and fire certification, Hernando County officials said on Monday.

Until further notice, that means fire and emergency medical service calls will be handled by Hernando County Fire Rescue from stations on Barclay Avenue and Cortez Boulevard just east of U.S. 19.

The decision came after the former deputy chief of the department reported to county officials that the volunteer force was not operating with the certifications necessary to protect the more than 1,500 residents who live in the 55-and-older mobile home community of High Point.

"We asked for a temporary out-of-service,'' said High Point Volunteer Fire Department Chief Joe Curcio. "We're definitely not closed.''

He declined to talk about the certification issues and any other reasons for the decision.

In a letter sent Monday to Curcio from deputy county attorney Jon Jouben, the attorney notes that the temporary cessation of services is "due to the volunteer fire department's inability to meet certain standards set by the State Fire Marshal's Office.''

Jouben also notes that the services rendered to the community by Hernando fire rescue will be billed to High Point, which is the case now when Hernando helps with calls.

A week ago, Bob Kanner resigned as the deputy chief of the department after the chairman of the department's board of directors, Patrick Bridgeman, disagreed with a plan that would change protocol for calls. The standard had been that a lead volunteer would respond to calls with another volunteer. But with summer coming and a shortage of personnel expected, Kanner proposed making all the volunteers equal, he said in an interview on Monday.

Kanner, an emergency medical technician who has handled medical training of the volunteers, said all of them took his classes and they all had to pass the same test, so they should all be considered equal. That way the department would not have to find a lead volunteer for each call.

Kanner said his departure leaves open another important role. For the past decade, he has acted as the eyes and ears for the county department's medical director, Michael A. LoGuidice Sr. Kanner said he had promised to alert the county if conditions at the High Point department deteriorated to the point where the county should consider closing it, as it briefly did 10 years ago.

He met last week with County Administrator Len Sossamon and other county officials.

Sossamon said Monday that he did not know how long the High Point department had been operating without the enough trained volunteers.

Until High Point's volunteer force can get trained as required, Sossamon said the county will provide needed services for the community. "We've got their backs,'' he said.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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