Resources stretched thin in Pasco Co. battling fires

Posted at 4:26 AM, Apr 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-14 15:58:43-04

(PASCO CO., Fla.) It's been a relentless week for firefighters in Pasco county with no clear end in sight.

"We are looking at several more weeks of possible wildfire danger and crews that are working day and night to put those fires out," said Capt. Shawn Whited, with the Pasco County Fire & Rescue.

Overnights means overtime for many of the employees. There's a total of 525 people working in the department. Some of those folks are being taken off normal calls just to handle the brush fires - Whited says the department is calling in additional firefighters to help with the long shifts.

He says they staff about 2 people per brush truck and right now they have about 10 firefighters manning them which equals about $10,000 dollars a day in overtime.

That money is coming from the $750,000 set aside in the county budget for overtime expenses. Whited says if things get worse they may have to pull from other areas of the budget. They're also now relying on getting some of the money back after Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in the state. While that helps for now, a proposal to cut the Florida Forest Service’s budget by $50 million could have an impact on local departments down the road. However, $35 million of that would have gone towards land acquisition.

"Without the help of the Florida Forest Service this week we would have lost some homes, lost some private property and stuff," said Whited.

Most of the money proposed in the Governors budget cuts would come from the Florida Forest Service's Capital improvement plan and special programs funding. 

The Governor's office says there were not any cuts to firefighting missions. Any differences from last year’s budget are comprised of land buying proposals and one time budget projects that were already funded last year.

The Governor's office released the following statement on the budget:

"The Governor’s recommended budget includes completely funding the important, lifesaving mission of firefighters around the state. Governor Scott appreciates the hard work of firefighters across our state and thanks them for their constant dedication to keeping Floridians safe. That is why the Governor used his executive authority to ensure all needs associated with combatting this year’s dangerous fires will be covered.”