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Bayshore District to maintain current staffers

By Staff | Aug 21, 2009

While fire departments across the United States and particularly in Florida are seeing drastic reductions in funds and layoffs from the housing crisis, the Bayshore Fire Protection & Rescue Service District reports no positions were lost in recent contract negotiations.
The Board of Fire Commissioners met Aug. 11 and the contract for all firefighters was ratified for the next year.
“The contract was approved by the board of commissioners when the firefighters stepped up and saved the district over $177,000,” said Firefighter District 12 Vice President William LeMieux.
“For the most part we are a very tight-knit group,” he said. “We understood the challenges that faced the department and gave back the money through benefits and total savings. That was the game plan — not to lose positions. We’re here for the people.”
Commission Chair Tracy Hansen said all the commissioners were pleased with the firefighters stepping up, especially for the significant fund savings.
“We don’t start the budget process for another couple of weeks, but they already got us ahead of the ballgame,” Hansen said.
He noted that savings has been a priority for the district.
“We were looking at stories like in Lehigh were firefighters mowed their own lawns,” he said. “We’ve been mowing our own lawn for years. We’ve never paid for that.”
“They (the union) are also currently negotiating contracts for six other districts, and ours went very smoothly,” he added.
Chief Lawrence Nesbet praised his firefighters’ concessions so there would not be layoffs.
“We lost roughly $270,000 from last year at the current millage rate,” he said. “It’s 3.4 percent.”
Nesbet said it was much more than he anticipated, but a combination of the concessions and “smart spending” allowed for the team to stay intact.
Hansen said the figure was actually closer to $300,000 due to other factors.
They did a lot of negotiations before going to the board.
“The firefighters gave back to the district, in benefits, frozen salaries and more — saving a little over $177,000 that could keep us from laying off anyone,” Hansen said.
Nesbet said they changed the health plan and gave up some holidays with working time off in lieu of regular holiday pay.
He also credits office manager Theresa Sharp for her efforts in the process, especially in working on the health care plan.
“She’s a great negotiator and she really beat up the insurance companies,” he said.
Nesbet also credits being able to rely on faithful volunteers to make sure a proper level of service is maintained.
“We have 21 volunteers and they are absolutely key,” he said.
The other big chunk of missing funds came from what he calls “smart spending” and staff pitching in.
On pitching in, the firefighters remodeled their kitchen themselves for cost savings and are refurbishing vehicles donated or bought at lower cost.
Nesbet took the position of chief last June, and said he started immediately then planning for the anticipated downturn in funds.
Any kind of grant they could go after, they did.
His purchases of a brush truck from the Tampa Airport resulted in significant savings.
“It had very low miles and we were able to put the truck in service at half the cost of a new one,” he said.
Another key item was a military truck donated that the firefighters are now working on, in part by LeMieux with volunteer Lt. Rick Garcia.
“We are now getting it ready for fire activities,” said Nesbet.
With below average rainfall, he said he is concerned about next year’s brush season.
“Last year at this time I was doing flood patrol,” he said. “Currently there’s very little water — the ditches are dry.”
But he is proud of the actions of his whole team, which he feels now will not reflect any level of service to the community.