Sheriff, fire plan needs lots of study

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Column by Jim Clark

By Jim Clark

This column is being written Tuesday evening, with little time to digest the news that came from the county a couple of hours earlier, that Sheriff Ed Dean was proposing putting Marion County Fire Rescue under the Sheriff’s Office, instead of having the fire chief report to the county administrator.

Little definitive reaction was available from county officials, and that’s good. This is something that needs to be studied for a long time before thoughts of implementation ever take hold.

Everyone needs to hesitate before endorsing this plan. There are several questions to be raised.

The first thing that came to mind was the proposal in the sheriff’s letter to appoint a committee to look into his plan. He proposed that he appoint five members and the county appoint five members. He states that fire department members would be ex-officio members of the committee.

The workers most affected by this plan, the firefighters, wouldn’t even be on the committee? That seems very wrong indeed. It seems as if stacking the deck is the proposal, not producing a committee that would give a fair assessment of the proposal.

Then there’s the matter of the union. The recent vote by the deputies to unionize obviously won’t sit too well with Sheriff’s Office management. Is this a way of adding a bunch of non-union workers to the Sheriff’s rolls, maybe making a difference in a future vote?

The sheriff wants to compare the plan to one already in effect in Broward County, which is in South Florida and includes Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Coral Springs, Hollywood, etc. But the population estimates from the Census Bureau show Broward’s population as 1,600,000, while Marion is much smaller at 326,000. This seems to be comparing North Central Florida oranges to South Florida oranges. Is there a county of comparable population that has done this?

In his letter, the sheriff talks about cost savings. However, he doesn’t say how many jobs would be lost. If the plan goes through and the Sheriff’s Office is in charge, you can bet it won’t be the sheriff’s people who lose their livelihood.

The people in Marion County have good fire and rescue protection now. It’s hard to see how this plan would make it better. To see the effectiveness of the fire service, you only had to see the quick response of more than half a dozen vehicles to a health facility near TimberRidge on Tuesday afternoon. Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm, but the quick and saturating response was refreshing to those who realize that someday it may not be an accidental triggering of a fire alarm.

So let’s step back and examine all the possible ramifications, not just those in the sheriff’s letter. The safety of all of us could be at stake.

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at 352-854-3986 or at editor@smcitizen.com.