Lutz Volunteer Firefighters Prepare to Close Up Shop
It's not business as usual for the association. Facing closure as a volunteer station, the association debated the reality of closing up shop during a meeting on Tuesday.
After last Thursday's meeting with the chiefs of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, the Lutz Volunteer Firefighter's Association was stripped of its main duty: fostering the development and maintenance of the Lutz Volunteer Fire Department.
On Jan. 1, 2013, it will no longer be the Lutz Volunteer Fire Department's station, it will be another Hillsborough County Fire Department station. The volunteer program will be transformed into what the county is calling the Reserve Responder program. Volunteers will still exist but there will be no more volunteer stations in Hillsborough County.
This was tough news for a volunteer station about to celebrate its 60th year, tougher news for many of the association's board directors.
"It was handled poorly," association president Jay Muffly said.
Muffly echoed what a few Lutz citizens and board members brought up at the Dec. 6 meeting; that they don't think the county and the County Commission handled the situation appropriately with regards to the Lutz department.
The county's argument, voiced by Fire Chief Ron Rogers was that the county faced "liability issues" under the current format of volunteer fire stations. Rogers cited certain stations losing their nonprofit status and that some volunteers were under-trained as reasons for the takeover.
Rogers did admit that there were, "far fewer" problems with the Lutz department but stopped at that.
Volunteer station board members and citizens saw it differently.
"It's a power grab," current bookkeeper, long-time president and board member and long time volunteer firefighter Jerry Goins said. "The union has wanted to get rid of us for years and now they've done it."
Goins claims that ever since the framework of the Hillsborough County Fire Department was established in 1973, "they've been after the volunteer departments."
"When they changed the county administrator, the fire chief assistant, and the county administrator for public safety and eliminated the volunteer coordinator, the writing was on the wall," Muffly said.
The Lutz department is actually a very well trained department, volunteer officials said. Seventeen of the 27 volunteers all have Firefighter 2 certification and 18 have EMT certification.
Regardless, handover is supposed to happen on Jan. 1.
Now the association has to liquidate its assets. The association still owns the two buildings across the street from the station, a Ford F150 used as the volunteer chief's truck, Suzie - a 1940 grove truck that was converted to the station's first engine in 1952 along with mountains of documents, office supplies and fire equipment. The association holds a surplus of funds so discussions were made over what to do with the remaining money.
The one idea that was approved was to have an appreciation banquet for all of the volunteer firefighters to thank them for their time and effort invested in building a better community. Other ideas that were discussed included starting a scholarship fund.
The biggest issue seemed to be what to do with the two buildings across the street from the station. Goins estimated that it would cost a 501(c)(4) or (3) nonprofit roughly six thousand dollars a year to maintain. The association looked to the Lutz Land O' Lakes Women's Club as a potential suitor to take over the building but also appointed a committee to look into obtaining a Realtor to assist in selling the buildings.
One sentiment was common throughout.
"We want to keep the building in the hands of people that will use it for the community," Muffly said.
Patch readers are asked to suggest creative uses for the buildings across the street from what will soon the the former Lutz Volunteer Fire Department.
What would you like to see happen to the buildings? Share your thoughts in the comments section.