Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jennings Volunteer Firefighters Walk off Job

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jennings Volunteer Firefighters Walk off Job

Article excerpt

JENNINGS -- Tiny Jennings is a sleepy, one-stoplight town near

the Georgia line that's like thousands of other rural

communities, obscure until disaster strikes.

But the disaster that's rocked Jennings is unlike the

brushfires, flash floods, tornadoes and hurricanes that

occasionally put small towns on the front page.

On a smoldering night earlier this month, Jessie Castillo and

15 of his 19 fellow volunteer firefighters hung up their helmets

and walked off the job, an act that has inflamed this Hamilton

County town of 712 like nothing in years.

The volunteers turned in their pagers and quit the night

Castillo and fellow firefighter Tom Nicolas were roundly

defeated in their quest to win places on the City Council. Some

folks think the firefighters quit as a show of support for

Castillo and Nicolas, or as a display of anger with voters.

Fire Department coordinator Robert King, who stayed on the

force and is helping reorganize it, says two men claimed they

didn't know why they quit.

But several ex-firefighters said last week there were

legitimate reasons for the walkout. They complained the city

reneged on a pledge to reimburse them $1,000 they'd raised for

an aging pumper truck purchased from Jacksonville in 1993.

Mayor Danny Johnson admits the city took its time in paying for

it, but approved a $1,000 transfer to the firefighters fund

during a council session the night after the election.

"I can't remember why the $1,000 wasn't transferred," he said.

Former firefighters like Andre Jackson point to such problems

as a reason why some in normally laid-back Jennings are doing a

slow burn.

"When you've got an excellent group of young men going out

there busting their butt and you got other jobs," the fouryear

veteran said, "you should at least have the support of the

people sitting behind the table."

Those who quit say they were angry over that perceived lack of

support from the council. But everyone except Police Chief

Charles Lambert now want to return to the squad, Castillo said.

The city, which got help from nearby towns and found eight

recruits to join a few hardy veterans who stayed, isn't rushing

to embrace the former firefighters. …

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