Tight budget forces Lehigh to cut 35 firefighters
Lehigh Acres will lose 35 firefighters at the end of September to meet the new budget.
The long-expected cut is due to a 49 percent deficit in revenue, a result of the decline in property values which will result in much less property tax to fill the district coffers.
Fire Chief Don Adams reassured residents that the department still will operate the four engines and three rescue units, or ambulances, it presently has.
“We will continue dispatching out of five stations,” he said. “Even with the reduction of personnel, we are going to continue to provide the highest level of service possible.”
The department has six stations.
Fire Station 105, at 636 S. Thomas Sherwin Ave., built nearly two years ago, will house only administrative personnel, according to Adams.
A total of 123 firefighters including paramedics and EMTs are authorized, however, the department has operated with only 111. After the cuts, the number will be down to 72 firefighters.
“We’ll temporarily close this station, until we see what happen in the he said. “If the economy increases and we get grants, then we will rehire the firefighters. This is done to balance the budget.”
The cuts had long been feared and seen as unavoidable, so a number of firefighters already have sought to protect their families and homes.
“Some have already obtained jobs, and some are in the process,” Adams said. “Already we had some who have given their two weeks notice, because we knew back in May, based on the revenue … “
One firefighter is going to work in Cape Coral and another for the Lee County EMS, according to Adams.
“They are good firefighters,” he said, “and I think they will find jobs, eventually, somewhere.”
Adams was asked whether Lehigh is experiencing a decrease in population as was recently reported for the whole state of Florida.
“When you drive around, you see empty homes, but we have no statistics,” he said.