Firefighters Revive Cats Following Travel Trailer Fire (With Gallery)

January 23, 2015

Two cats pulled apparently lifeless and unresponsive from a travel trailer fire Thursday are alive and well today thanks to firefighters from Escambia Fire Rescue.

Firefighters from the Ensley and Cantonment fire stations were called to the travel trailer fire in the 6000 block of  Untreiner Avenue in Ensley  just after noon. The fire was quickly extinguished, saving surrounding structures. Firefighters removed the cats from the fire and revived them using oxygen from specially designed masks donated by the Junior Humane Society  and a little tender loving care.

At last report, the cats were doing well.

For more NorthEscambia.com photos, click here.

There were no injuries to people in the blaze. The cause of the fire is under investigation  by the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office.

NorthEscambia.com exclusive photos by Kristi Price, click to enlarge.

Escambia To Settle With IRS Over Firefighter Stipends, Work To Keep Volunteers

January 23, 2015

The Escambia County Commission voted Thursday night to pay back taxes under an IRS audtio 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 will pay the $78,000 and agree to the settlement as offered by the IRS.

Volunteer firefighters will continue to receive a stipend check will taxes withheld, and they will receive a W-2 rather than a 1099 at year’s end. As it stands now, any volunteer that works a  paid job for the Board of County Commissioners can’t volunteer for the fire department because of potential tax overtime issues. About a dozen volunteers are impacted.

The commission authorized County Administrator Jack Brown and other staff to continue talks with the volunteers and to find any potential solutions.

Commissioner Wilson Robertson’s motion stated that volunteers should keep their stipends, no additional minimum training beyond Firefighter I should be required  and staff should reach out to federal agencies to solve employee volunteer issues. The commission unanimously approved the motion.

NorthEscambia.com file photos, click to enlarge.

Gulf Power, Military Bringing Large Scale Solar Power To Area

January 23, 2015

Gulf Power is partnering with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force to build solar energy farms at three different facilities across Northwest Florida. Today, the utility submitted the renewable projects to the Florida Public Service Commission (FPSC) for approval. The projects could be in service as early as December 2016.

“This is an important collaboration between Gulf Power, the Navy and the Air Force,” said Stan Connally, Gulf Power president and CEO. “As military installations seek solutions to promote renewable energy generation, we have worked alongside our military customers to help provide cost-effective solutions — and all our customers will reap the benefit.”

This is Gulf Power’s second alternative energy project since launching the 3.2-megawatt Perdido Landfill Gas-to-Energy facility in 2010. Together, these new solar facilities, which will be developed by HelioSage Energy, could produce enough energy to power approximately 18,000 homes for one year.

“We’re excited to be able to add solar energy to our generation mix,” Connally said. “With some careful planning, we’ve been able to make sure these projects are cost-effective for our customers.”

Once approved by the FPSC, the solar energy farms will be constructed at Eglin AFB in Fort Walton Beach (30 megawatts), Holley Field in Navarre (40 megawatts) and Saufley Field in Pensacola (50 megawatts). Gulf Power will serve customers across Northwest Florida with power from these renewable energy-generating facilities.

Capt. Keith Hoskins, commanding officer of NAS Pensacola, said the project is part of the Secretary of the Navy’s Strategy for Renewable Energy and provides an opportunity to assist local and state industry partners in understanding the Department of the Navy’s overall strategy and commitment to renewable energy.

“This project will provide a potential benefit to the U.S. Navy in providing energy security during outages to allow seamless operation of our critical assets,” Hoskins said.

NAS Whiting Field’s commanding officer Capt. Todd A. Bahlau addressed the benefits of the solar projects.

“NAS Whiting Field is excited to participate in the Secretary of the Navy’s plan to invest in renewable energy to diversify the Navy’s energy sources,” Bahlau said. “This is a win-win for everyone involved and another example of the tremendous partnerships between the military and the leaders of Northwest Florida.”

The Air Force, also striving to meet new federal renewable energy and energy conservation goals, is excited to get the project started.

“This project helps meet the DoD goal of 25 percent renewables by 2025 and the Air Force’s energy goal of 1 gigawatt of on-site capacity by 2016,” said Brig. Gen. David Harris, 96th Test Wing commander.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s strategic asset utilization division chief Dave Funk highlighted how the solar facilities will not only benefit the community, but will make good use of Air Force property.

“This project exemplifies how a regional utility provider like Gulf Power can effectively partner with the Air Force to achieve common renewable energy and asset-optimization objectives,” Funk said. “The proposed agreement is expected to optimize the value of 240 acres of non-excess Air Force real estate through the development and operation of a ground-mounted solar photovoltaic facility, which will directly benefit Gulf Power, Eglin Air Force Base, and the local community.”

As an intermittent energy resource, the solar farms will not replace Gulf Power’s generation plants, but will have the capability to provide energy that will diversify the power supply and provide a cost-effective alternative during peak energy usage.

Pending FPSC approval, HelioSage is scheduled to begin construction in February 2016.

“HelioSage is excited to partner with Gulf Power on these landmark projects which will bring renewable energy to Northwest Florida,” said Chris Quarterman, vice president of Strategy for HelioSage Energy. “These projects serve as another example that large-scale solar has become a cost-effective technology. We congratulate Gulf Power and the Department of Defense for their leadership and vision, and look forward to working together on this effort.”

Pictured: Examples of HelioSage Energy solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities. Courtesy photos for NorthE

Pedestrian Killed, Another Injured, In Hit And Run

January 23, 2015

One of two women struck by a vehicle on North Davis Highway Thursday night has passed away.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 35-year old Jennifer M. Tomas and 29-year old Tina Marie Frye were crossing Davis Highway north of West Florida Hospital when Tomas fell on the roadway. Frye attempted to help Tomas when Tomas was struck by an unknown make and model truck that continued southbound on Davis Highway. Frye went back in an attempt to help Tomas and was struck by a 2010 Toyota Corolla drive by 58-year old Angela Colvin Davidson. Tomas was also ran over again by the Corolla.

Both were transported by ambulance as trauma alerts to Sacred Heart Hospital where Tomas was pronounced deceased.

Anyone with information regarding the vehicle that  fled the scene, described as an older model, extended cab truck, possibly a dark in color Chevrolet, should contact Cpl. Karasek at (850) 471-6928.

Any charges are pending the outcome of a Florida Highway Patrol traffic homicide investigation.

Escambia School Board Member, ‘Agnostic Pagan’ Battle Over Satanic Prayer

January 22, 2015

A religious battle of sorts has been brewing between a member of the Escambia County School Board and a citizen that attends board meetings on a regular basis – with a prayer carpet and prayers to Satan. And after a school board meeting this week in which the board member walked out during one such Satanic prayer, it appears that battle may be headed into a full-fledged war.

David Suhor doesn’t describe himself as Satanic, saying that Satan is a “creation of the Bible”, which he rejects. Rather, he says on his blog that he prefers “agnostic pagan pantheist”.

Jeff Bergosh is a three-term Christian member of the board that aims to be a champion for the students in the Escambia County School District, and also aims to make sure the board’s rules are upheld.

Suhor delivered a Pagan prayer in song before the Escambia County Commission last year….during which Escambia County Commissioner Wilson Robertson walked out rather than listen. Suhor has pushed the school board to stop their long-standing custom of inviting a guest speaker to open meetings in prayer and instead opt for a moment of silence. All of those prayers, he says on his blog, have been lead by Biblical believers and have not represented minority religions. He’s pushed Bergosh to invite him to pray before the school board, but Bergosh has repeatedly stressed that will never happen.

This month was Bergosh’s turn to invite the opening prayer speaker, and he chose Rabbi Joel Fleekop from Pensacola’s Temple Beth-El. As the Rabbi delivered his prayer, Suhor turned away from the board on his prayer rug near  the podium and began chanting his own prayer– loud enough in the opinion of one audience member that he told the board that he was unable to hear the Rabbi’s prayer, which asked for “God’s blessing upon this board, upon the teachers, administrators of this county, and especially upon the students…”

During the opening forum portion of the meeting, citizens are allowed three minutes to speak before the BOE, with explicit instructions that they are not to address board members other than the chair or make personal attacks. During his three minutes, Suhor called the Rabbi a “Token-Jew” and, in Bergosh’s words, insulting both the Rabbi and the board member.

Bergosh called it a “total loss of control”, with board chair Patty Hightower exercising “no control” over the speaker.  Before his three minutes expired, Suhor said, “This is from the church of Satan…Hail Satan…” and preceded with his Satanic prayer. As for Bergosh, he didn’t hear but the first few words before walking out of the meeting. Another board member, Bill Slayton, turned away.

“I wasn’t going to listen to a minute, not a nano-second more of this guy’s vitriolic garbage, and I won’t in the future either if he is going to blatantly walk all over our rules unabashed,” Bergosh wrote Wednesday.

Many in the audience began to recite the Lord’s prayer out loud as Suhor continued his message to Satan. On his blog, Suhor took issue with the Lord’s Prayer interruption, saying the chair should have paused the timer and quieted the audience so that he could continue.

The war of the words continued Wednesday on each man’s respective blog, with Suhor calling Bergosh’s actions “immature at best” and Bergosh accusing Suhor of “utilizing antics and shenanigans that are disruptive, divisive, and antagonistic”.

Bergosh said Wednesday that he will put the issues raised by the incident at this week’s board meeting on a future board workshop agenda.

“I will not sit silently if this individual comes to our meeting and tries these sorts of stunts again and is not restrained.  Out of deference to the Chair and the rules of the board, I was silent through this blatant violation of the rules.  I won’t be next time,” Bergosh wrote. “I’m not indulging this disruptive person, and I never will.”

“A BETTER USE [sic] use of the school board’s time would be a thorough discussion of the invocation – as a policy and a legal liability,” Suhor blogged.

Pictured top: Escambia County School Board member Jeff Bergosh’s empty seat (left) during a Satanic prayer. Pictured inset: Self-described “agnostic pagan pantheist” David Suhor delivers a prayer before the Escambia County Commission (top inset) last year and this week before the Escambia County School Board during a pre-meeting public forum (bottom inset).  Images are video stills from each respective board’s meeting video by NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.