It took Hillsborough County commissioners just a few minutes to do away with a 60-year-old tradition.
In a unanimous vote Thursday, Nov. 16, commissioners agreed to extinguish the county's traditional volunteer fire department system and replace it with a reserve responder program.
This means the county's six formerly volunteer fire stations, including the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Station at 4705 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico, will be staffed by career firefighters starting Jan. 1. However, under the reserve responder program, there still will be plenty of opportunities for volunteers to serve, said Hillsborough County Fire Chief Ron Rogersl
"Volunteers have been providing service for 60 years but it is time for change," Rogers told commissioners.
Of the county's 42 fire stations, only six were volunteer stations. In the wake of an unflattering audit in September, three of the stations -- North Brandon, Dover-Turkey Creek and Corks-Knights -- are now being manned by career firefighters. The remaining three -- Sundance, Lutz and Bloomingdale -- will transition to career stations Jan. 1.
"We're already staffing portions of all six volunteer stations," said Rogers, noting that two career firefighters are assigned to the Bloomingdale station.
Rogers said a task force that included Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Chief Van Tisdale came up with a plan that will put professional firefighters in every station but augment with volunteers.
The transition, however, doesn't come cheaply. Rogers said fire rescue will need an additional $5.2 million to fund 78 new career positions.
Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said the county will use reserve and contingency funds on drawdown basis to fill the positions.
In the meantime, the county will begin putting its reserve responder program in place that will allow young men and women an opportunity to see if firefighting is a career for them and give retired firefighters a way to continue contributing.
"Our goal is for existing volunteers to be a part of the crew and live in the station when they're on shift to build camaraderie," said Rogers. "We really want to make them part of the process."
He said he hopes to have a minimum of 120 active reservists.
Volunteers who meet the minimum criteria will be eligible to be a Reserve Firefighter I; Reserve Firefighter II; Reserve Firemedic I; Reserve Paramedic; Reserve Fire Officer; Reserve Specialist; or sit on the Reserve Advisory Committee.
The full Fire Rescue Volunteer Transition Plan is available online.