Hernando County commish votes to shut down volunteer fire department amid mounting criticism

Missing financial records, violations cited
Posted at 10:47 PM, Feb 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-15 15:56:24-05

UPDATE | The Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department ends its service to the community today.

At 2 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 15,  Hernando Beach Volunteer Chief Dan Chichester planned to hand over his keys to the volunteer fire department building to Hernando County officials.

Chichester's decision comes a day after Hernando County commissioners voted 3-1 to terminate the contract with the volunteer fire department.

The chief also informed county officials they would have to immediately assume all fire protection for the Hernando Beach area, Hernando County spokeswoman Virginia Singer said in a statement.

Hernando County already have plans in place to have a fully-staffed advance life support engine running calls from the former volunteer fire department at 3451 Shoal Line Blvd. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"We are able to reconfigure our existing resources to cover our new HCFR footprint," Fire Chief Scott Hechler said in the statement. "There will be no additional cost to the Hernando Beach  homeowners until October 1, 2017. At the time, they will pay the same as all other Hernando County residents." 

Both the Hernando County Attorney's Office and county purchasing department continue to work on details regarding inventory and documents within the volunteer fire department building, the statement added.

ORIGINAL STORY | Hernando County officials voted to shut down a volunteer fire department after calls for service reportedly went unanswered and financial records were not being submitted. 

County commissioners voted 3-1 Tuesday to dissolve the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department within 60 days. 

The county sent former Chief David Murdock a five page breach of contract in January to which none of the listed issues were resolved, according to a county spokesperson. 

The documents detailed a list of violations and deficiencies, including two years of missing financial reports. 

Murdock resigned not long after Hernando County officials sent the breach of contract warning. 

The fate of the volunteer department has divided the Hernando Beach community. 

"We were surprised that it was so contentious being as that it's a small town and everybody knows everybody," said resident Dennis Ferguson. 

Hernando County Fire Rescue will begin responding to all calls for service in the area in two months. The county's department has already been responding to most medical and serious calls because the volunteer department is not qualified to provide basic life support services. 

The county also learned, volunteer fire fighters were not showing up for some calls. 

"A medical that was literally .6 miles from the station," said Hernando County Deputy Chief Kevin Carroll. "It's a two-minute drive from the station, a severe shortness of breathe call and nobody from the volunteer department responded."

Still some people are against the county takeover, concerned about an increase in fees. Hernando Beach residents may face a $70-$80 hike. 

"How much is your life worth? It's well worth it, for $70 to have security and peace of mind," said Ferguson. 

Carroll said the county will provide Hernando Beach with an advanced life support fire engine, capable of providing the same medical treatment as an ambulance. 

"I just would like to have it where it's pretty quick response," said resident Stan Raymer. 

Raymer says having an advanced life support services is vital for an aging population in Hernando Beach. 

"Having somebody who can respond in just a couple of minutes can make a matter of life and death," said Raymer. 

A former volunteer made shocking allegations against the department last month, calling it the "worst run fire department" he has ever seen. 

Don Bisson sent an email to county commissioners stating he witnessed fire fighters drinking beer inside the fire station and, Bisson claims, he walked in on one volunteer having sex at the fire station that very same month. 

Volunteer fire fighters inside the station declined to comment to ABC Action News Tuesday night.