Fla. fire dept. refuses mutual aid request

A responder to the dispatcher's request said the department couldn't respond due to funding considerations; a fire chief said their refusal came at a critical time during their house fire battle

Northwest Florida Daily News

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. — Liberty Fire District Assistant Chief Tony Roy’s refusal to send a tanker truck to a burning home in another jurisdiction has sparked discussion in Walton County over local mutual aid agreements.

At 3:30 p.m. Nov. 25, Walton County Fire Rescue requested that Liberty dispatch a truck to a house fire at 169 Lorenz Drive near DeFuniak Springs.

A dispatcher relayed the message to the independent fire district and a man identified by several sources as Roy got on his radio.

“You’ll need to bypass Liberty due to funding considerations of the county,” he told the dispatcher.

Walton County Fire Chief Bobby Martin said Liberty’s refusal to respond came at a critical time in the fight to save the Lorenz Drive home.

Water for fighting fires is scarce in rural north Walton County, Martin said, and the county fire department doesn’t presently have a tanker truck available in that area. A tanker truck from the Argyle independent district was dispatched to help battle the blaze, but the second tanker became a necessity.

“We had kinda started running out of water,” Martin said. “According to my captain, we had to slow our water response down. If we had had them with the tanker we could have continued to attack it in a manner they (firefighters on scene) felt they should have to prevent (the) loss of the home.”

Martin estimated the loss to the Lorenz Drive home at 80 percent.

Roy, who according to Martin also sits on the Liberty Fire District’s governing board, was unavailable for comment Monday.

Liberty District Chief John Dunham said he was out of town Nov. 25 and if he hadn’t been gone things would have been done differently.

“He’s (Roy) the one who made the decision, it wasn’t me,” Dunham said. “I would have sent a truck. It was wrong the way he did it, and we told him about it.”

Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, whose agency oversees county dispatch, said when he heard Roy’s response for the first time he couldn’t believe it.

“I have been in this a long time and I have never seen somebody refuse to help for political reasons. We never bring politics into the issue of public service,” Adkinson said. “If I’d have known then I wouldn’t have let it happen. I’d have sent a deputy and told him to drive the fire truck.”

Liberty Fire District officials are still angry with Walton County for its decision in 2014 to quit providing an annual stipend to the county’s three, formerly four, independent fire districts.

- “It has been going on ever since the county said they were going to cut our funds off,” Dunham said.

The county’s decision forced the Liberty and Argyle districts to raise the special assessments they charge homeowners within their taxing authority from $25. Liberty now charges $75 a year and Argyle $100.

Both Martin and Walton County Commissioner Bill Imfeld said the new annual assessment brings in more for the independent districts than the county ever provided them.

“They’re bringing in more revenue than they relied on from the county,” Imfeld said. “So I’m kind of confused about what Liberty’s budget constraints could be.”

Martin said he has been approached by Liberty Fire District firefighters worried about the district administration’s refusal to render aid and to sign a mutual aid agreement with the county fire department.

He said he only recently obtained the tape recording of Roy’s radio call and just a week ago attended a Liberty Fire District Board meeting in an effort to convince members to sign a formal agreement to render aid.

“The board has to be the one to agree to it,” he said.

Martin said his presentation was greeted primarily with silence from Liberty commissioners, including Roy, and the board made no decision regarding the mutual aid proposal.

The chief also said that no matter what animosity might exist between Liberty Fire District and the county, the fire district and its residents can always count on Walton County Fire Rescue to come to their aid.

“We’re here for the taxpayers. We will come to them,” he said. “We will go to where the citizens are. They’re citizens of Walton County and we are a county service.”

Copyright 2016 Northwest Florida Daily News
All Rights Reserved

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