Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fire Rescue Bolstered in Northwest St. Johns

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fire Rescue Bolstered in Northwest St. Johns

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Scanlan, Staff writer

St. Johns County's Fire Rescue Department will dedicate more personnel to the rapidly growing Northwest Sector over the next year, while at least one more fire station is under study to augment the four now operating between Switzerland and Sampson.

In the meantime, volunteer firefighters who work alongside paid firefighters will report to a new boss in the near future.

The St. Johns County Commission decided Sept. 3 to mandate that the estimated 50 volunteer firefighters who help out or staff the county's 19 stations sign up with the county's Fire Rescue Department instead of being part of a dozen volunteer organizations.

County Fire Chief Bobby Hall said the change was made as part of fire department restructuring, and because worker's compensation for the volunteers would end unless they were part of the fire department.

"We are trying to develop a career volunteer system so career and volunteer personnel can work under common policies and there is a clear line of accountability," Hall said. "The insurance issue came up, so the company required the volunteers to volunteer directly to the governing body."

Orangedale volunteer fire chief Paul Batesman, whose 12 volunteers operate the fire engines housed in that community and nearby Colee Cove, said it was a logical move.

"There was a different contract for each association, and this just streamlines it. Nothing changes. We are still going to work with career staff and provide services," said Batesman. "We are bringing the volunteer fire service into the 21st Century."

The fire department has made previous changes in the northwest to handle calls for service that have jumped 25 percent since 1998.

The number of fire stations rose from three to four. A converted community center was replaced by the 7,600-square-foot Station 2 at 1120 Sheffield Road in Switzerland, and a new Station 3A was built at 6010 County Road 13 N. …

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