After No Volunteer Response To Fires, Paid Crews Added To One Escambia Fire Station

April 9, 2015

Last Friday morning, there were two house fires in the area served by the Ferry Pass Volunteer Fire Station, but no truck from Ferry Pass ever rolled to either fire due to a lack of volunteers at the time.

This morning, Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown announced that he will be placing a paid fire crew at the station to “assist” the volunteers as of Friday morning to ensure proper coverage for the district that includes ares such as North Davis Highway, University Parkway and eastern Nine Mile Road.  The 24/7 paid firefighter positions will be paid with funds already available in the county’s fire services budget this year.

“They (the Ferry Pass volunteers) are handling a lot of calls; they are just overwhelmed,” Commissioner Grover Robinson said as he praised the efforts of new Ferry Pass Volunteer Chief Kevin Winingar who has held the position less than a month. The volunteers at the station do answer a large number of calls, but sometimes they are understaffed, he said.

Brown said  the career and volunteer crews will work together at the Ferry Pass station, “respectful of each other and make it work for the residents of Escambia County”.

During a Thursday morning agenda review session, Commissioner Wilson Robertson asked if career and volunteer firefighters could work together in the same station, because he had “heard” that was not allowed under a recent IRS settlement involving volunteer stipends.

Brown said that under a recent legal opinion, volunteer and career firefighters can serve at the same fire station. However, he said paid county employees in fields such as EMS still are not allowed to volunteer as firefighters.

The Escambia County Commission voted in January to pay back taxes under an IRS audit of the county’s fire services and to work toward keeping things as normal as possible for volunteer firefighters while keeping the IRS and other agencies happy.

Volunteer firefighters in Escambia County currently receive stipend pay for answering 25 percent of their station’s calls during the month, ranging from $300 for a Firefighter I to $550 for a district chief.

The audit was prompted after the IRS discovered that several Escambia County employees were receiving both a W-2, showing taxes withheld from their “day” job with county, and a 1099, showing no taxes withheld as a volunteer firefighter. The IRS found Escambia County should have been withholding taxes on a stipend pay for all volunteers and the county owes over $78,000.

The county paid the $78,000 and agreed to the settlement as offered by the IRS. Volunteer firefighters continued to receive a stipend check will taxes withheld, and they will receive a W-2 rather than a 1099 at year’s end.

Pictured top, inset and immediately below:  The first firefighters from the Beulah Station of Escambia Fire Rescue arrive at a fire last Friday morning  on Fox Run in the Ferry Pass district and begin fighting the blaze. Pictured below: More photos from the scene. Photos by Dalton Young for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Comments

21 Responses to “After No Volunteer Response To Fires, Paid Crews Added To One Escambia Fire Station”

  1. Mayflower70 on April 10th, 2015 9:41 pm

    As the mother of one of the volunteer firefighters in the county, I know how much time , effort and dedication it takes for these men and women to do something they truly love. They spend countless hours away from their families not only to be on call to serve their community, but for the required training. I personally have gone to the station to spend Christmas, birthdays and New Years with my kid. What was important to them, was to make sure someone was there at the station for whoever, whenever. It is not about the dollar. I know that some of the volunteers at Ferry Pass might feel disheartened with the recent events; But, we applaud your dedication and service. I lived down the street in your district for years, and you are a pretty busy group. You have done a great job with the resources and staff you have and I for one am very proud of you. Don’t let the issue at hand and one individual tarnish how you feel about your station or the services you have provided.

  2. Mark T on April 10th, 2015 4:27 pm

    No problem with volunteer firemen, but something as critical as emergency and fire response should permanent paid personnel in my opinion..

  3. James on April 10th, 2015 10:56 am

    These volunteers take the same risk as any other fire fighter i applaud there courage thank you for your service

  4. northend on April 10th, 2015 9:24 am

    and the volunteers would not want to work for the county most of them have way better jobs the county fire has not had a raise in years and starting pay is 12.49hr at a 8hr station and like 8 or 9hr for a 24hr station so dont look at them like they need a hand out the proplem is EMS

  5. north end on April 10th, 2015 8:08 am

    the problem is EMS having fire dispatched to every little medical call thats the volume every one is talking about ensley runs about 6 to 12 calls a 24hr shift give or take a few do you think all of those are fires heck no most are medical calls at 80% car wrecks at 15% and 5% fires EMS closest unit to molino is century or Wst that is crap the news really needs to look at the real proplem all this volume is due to supporting EMS and there calls ensley runs over 3000 calls a year if you think its all house fires your nuts

  6. M in Bratt on April 10th, 2015 6:43 am

    The Ferry Pass Fire District encompasses approx 25 sq. miles (Approx. the size of the entire City of Pensacola), and protects a mall, a major hospital, several nursing homes and rehab centers, and a myriad of other hazards. It should have had a paid fire dept. years ago. It’s about time.

  7. Gman on April 10th, 2015 4:54 am

    Every station in this county should be staffed with paid firefighters. Raise my tax or increase the MSU fee I have no problem paying for a worthy cause. I’m sure the volunteers would accept a paid position if offered.

  8. writingonthewall on April 9th, 2015 8:48 pm

    It’s high time the volunteers get recognized as a group just like the career guys do with their union. The volunteers are ordered not to talk with the commissioners and media regarding certain matters whereas the union can blast whatever they want with no consequences. We only hear single sided information because the volunteers don’t have an official voice. With all of this negative media coverage, no wonder volunteer numbers are down. Good luck getting people to join with the fire chief bashing his own volunteer station on tv. Good job chief.

  9. Mike Amerson on April 9th, 2015 6:44 pm

    I have been a long time advocate of having all Fire Fighters be paid. With the amount of calls they all handle, they all should be paid positions. It’s sad when the long time County way is to react than to act. If you’re the one of the receiving end of needing their assistance, you would feel the same way about the topic. Why should they have to provide their Service when they’re others in the same Station receiving a full time paycheck? It’s just a receipt for exactly what has happen here. I will always support all of them to be paid. Just my opinion. Thanks, Mike Amerson

  10. BT on April 9th, 2015 6:38 pm

    I don’t like it, but I understand why you would have volunteer firefighters in the rural areas. It doesn’t make sense to pay a professional team to run a couple of calls a week.

    But Ferry Pass is hardly rural. In addition to the fairly dense population, there’s a university, all sorts of medical facilities, and several key roads running through that district.

    Credit the volunteers that they’ve been to handle so much of the call load to this point.

  11. Daniel Wright on April 9th, 2015 4:06 pm

    There should be paid fire in the stations that have the high call load.. or they can be there for the day and have the volunteer take over after 6.. it worked for many yrs and would give the volunteer more time with family and still be able to serve his time at the station..

  12. Jack on April 9th, 2015 3:08 pm

    This “fix” has been in the works for well over 5 years. I used to volunteer in the county, did so for almost 10 years. About 5 years ago, the county fire decided to take over the hiring and placement of all new volunteer firefighters. The implemented a rigorous agility test and required all applicants to pass their State Fire 1 class and test before any on scene action could be performed by a new volunteer. While I’m not against all of that, the problem became that the county “processed” the applications for almost 6 months before allowing a single firefighter to start the agility test or Fire 1 classes. Volunteers had moved on by then to something they could do sooner. In the rare chance they actually processed one, they applicant would then have to wait until the ability test that was only scheduled every couple months. So more waiting and less volunteers. The county began hiring paid fireman at the same time. So what resulted, they started hiring all the volunteers, and replacing them since they held the key to allow new volunteers to take their place. Ensley Fire Department is a great example. While all volunteer, the county hired almost 10 of the 25-30 active members. Being the busiest station in the county, the rest of the fireman couldn’t handle the call load without getting more volunteers. But they county fire kept the Chiefs the response of “we’re processing them”. As a result, a short time later, Ensley became paid after being all volunteer for over 50 years. I say that to say, the county was probably waiting on such an occurrence to happen. They knew it would eventually, and now that it has, they have everything prepared to jump right on it. All fire stations WILL be paid eventually. It’s just a matter of time before they can find a reason for every station. It’s a sad thing that could have been prevented. But the end of volunteers is coming thanks to money hungry politicians who get less money from volunteers than from having paid fireman. And they will use that to increase the fire tax, and have a lot more money coming in!

  13. jeeperman on April 9th, 2015 2:53 pm

    Yes, maybe in “years past” Ferry Pass had plenty of volunteers. How many do they have now?
    How many more stations cover the same area that Ferry Pass covered “years past”??
    You can’t expect the same amount of volunteers, stations and equipment to cover the same area for thirty years.
    As population and structure density increases, so too must the fire department manpower, facilities and equipment increase for the same area.

    The IRS thing has been in existence for decades. The mix up of issuing W2’s or 1099’s is solely the counties fault.

  14. Jane on April 9th, 2015 2:29 pm

    All fire stations should have paid firemen, if they don’t there may not be anyone there to answer the calls as they come in. The County Commissioners need to stop spending money on tourism and fund the firemen/fire departments that our citizens should have as a matter of safety!

  15. thetruth on April 9th, 2015 1:12 pm

    This wasn’t the first time that calls went out to Ferry Pass, with no or severely delayed response. Good for the county to put some paid crews there, Id hate to know when my house catches on fire that help was not coming. The county commission is fixing a problem that they created, when they ran all of the firefighters out of Ferry Pass.

  16. molino jim on April 9th, 2015 12:36 pm

    @ Paul–try putting the blame on IRS and the rules they have- not our county commissioners . Those rules are part of the fault of our “part time congress”. A good example of how congress can cause problems is the post office. It was doing well until congress passed some dumb rules concerning them. They have to pre fund insurance and retirement for a new employee for their total career from day one. No company or business has to or could do this. (I and none of my family work for the USPO). It’s partly our own fault for putting the same people over and over in congress, “because he’s our man”.

  17. JustMe on April 9th, 2015 12:16 pm

    Does anyone else find it odd that the money to fund these career personnel at ferry pass was “already in the budget”? Sounds like to me someone was planning to hire more anyways because as tight as budgets are I do not see the commissioners letting a budget have fat in it.

  18. Terri Sanders on April 9th, 2015 12:01 pm

    I sure hopes this helps the new fire chief at Ferry Pass and not make more work for him…

  19. northend on April 9th, 2015 11:57 am

    There is no county around the area that is 100% paid, this would be a first, so I doubt there is much statistics on how much it would cost, because there is no one else to compare it too…. Alot of cities have all paid departments…. like city of Pensacola, city of Mobile…. But no counties…. We all want fire protection in the event that we need it… but are you willing to take an increase from $85 to about $500-$600…… Remember they might say its only $5 dollars a year for a new station… But what do they have to compare it too?

  20. fred on April 9th, 2015 11:27 am

    I know we are all concerned about the additional cost of providing a full paid fire department throughout the county. Has anyone done an analysis of the additional tax revenue vs. the savings on homeowner insurance by having a 24/7 paid fire department? I am certainly not criticizing volunteer firefighters; they put their lives and safety on the line out of a sense of community service. I’m just pointing out that it might be much less expensive than we think, when all costs of home ownership are considered.

  21. paul on April 9th, 2015 10:58 am

    Is there any way to access the call logs from years past when Ferry Pass had plenty of volunteers? It was one of the best stations in the county before the county commissioners got involved.. They ruined it and the proof is right there..





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