Keystone Heights VFD has documented fire protection in KH since 1925. KHVFD was incorporated in 1952 and served the Lake Region Area as primary Fire Protection and Ambulance service until 1981 when, at the request of KHVFD, Clay County placed Rescue 75 at KHVFD and relieved the volunteer department of EMS transport. KHVFD then remained as primary fire protection and First Responder EMS services. In or around 2000, discussions started with Clay County in an effort to place a “paid” ALS engine in Keystone. KHVFD was running almost every call south of State Road 16 due to a lack of response from Station 23 in McRae and lack of paid staffing in the southern end of the County. At that time there was only one ambulance assigned south of Middleburg and when it was busy the residents of the South end did not have ALS coverage. In June of 2001, Keystone Heights VFD and Clay County jointly placed “Engine 10” an ALS engine staffed by Clay County at KHVFD. Engine 10 then handled all first out emergency calls with KHVFD providing additional manpower and equipment. The crews of Rescue 75 and Engine 10 have been living in the single story home owned by KHVFD, free of charge, since 1984 when KHVFD purchased the residence at 135 Flamingo Street, through private donations, for the paid staff of Clay County to live in. From 1981 to 1984 Rescue 75 crews resided and stored the ambulance at 120 Flamingo Street. During the leadership of Public Safety Director Jim Corbin (retired), the need for additional living space for the paid Clay County employees was a priority. A “Lease Agreement and Contract” was approved and signed which covered a period of 15 years in July of 2004 between KHVFD and the Clay County Board of County Commissioners. This agreement provided for Clay County to renovate the current two story building owned by KHVFD at 120 Flamingo Street, and have both entities serve the community from one facility. It also provided a contract for service so that KHVFD could continue to provide fire protection and BLS services to the County. Clay County has yet to act upon the renovation and has already made plans to move to another location separate from KHVFD. Significant funds have been expended by Clay County to renovate the building under the contract. Today the paid crews of Clay County still reside in the building purchased and provided by KHVFD, at no cost to Clay County, for over 29 years. In the last few years Clay County has added career staffing of two per ambulance at Camp Blanding St. 25 and McRae St. 23. In addition, career staff relocated to Engine 23 in October of 2012. This provides 4 career employees at each station per shift. (Stations 25, 23, and 11).
During the reign of Clay County Chief Frank Ennist, the Rescue unit ID in Keystone went from Rescue 75 to Rescue 10. Once Chief Lorin Mock took the position of Fire Chief of Clay County in 2009, he changed the entire station to Station 11 in an effort to provide a means of separation between the paid crews of Clay County and Station 10. Chief Mock then moved a brush truck from station 23 to Station 11 and began recruiting volunteers for Clay County while living in the facility provided by KHVFD. This began the downward spiral of the cohesive working relationship that existed prior to his employment. He then began forcing compensation and discipline to those members of KHVFD that were employed by Clay County Fire Rescue based on his opinion of the contract in place today. This caused many hardships for the community. First, 10 of the 12 “two hatters” resigned from KHVFD for fear of retaliation from Clay County while on the job. Second, KHVFD lost a significant amount of experienced, trained, and devoted members that served in positions from Firefighter to Assistant Chief of KHVFD. Then Clay County imposed discipline to an employee for an action that took place while volunteering for KHVFD. This discipline resulted in the demotion of two ranks (Lieutenant to Firefighter) and 22% loss of salary to this individual. During the same time period, Chief Mock ordered the relocation of the majority of the paid members of CCFR to other stations in the county because they were also members of KHVFD. Currently there are two members of KHVFD that are employed with Clay County Fire Rescue. There have been 3 resignations since December 2012 from KHVFD because Clay County staff advised them that the County would not hire them if they were on the KHVFD volunteer roster.
KHVFD sought an opinion from the Department of Labor in Washington DC regarding the rules and regulations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and how it applied to the relationship between KHVFD and Clay County. The letter states that the DOL does not offer opinions any longer and that KHVFD would have to seek legal advice to resolve this. In May of 2010 KHVFD and Kevin Lee Mobley filed an action against Clay County so that there could be a resolution to this issue. This case is still active with no resolution in sight. Mark Scruby, the County’s attorney agreed with the opinions in case law and Division of labor as noted in his letter to Chief Lorin Mock that the employees of Clay County were not required to be compensated under the Fair Labor Standards Act while volunteering with KHVFD. With some extensive research we found that in 1993 Clay County had already sought a legal opinion about the relationship between KHVFD and CCFR when it comes to the Fair Labor Standards Act and it included other departments within Clay County. This was all paid for by county tax dollars and now those funds are being spent again to get the same answer.
KHVFD currently provides a roster of 42 active volunteer firefighters and support staff members. KHVFD maintains, purchases, and repairs all of its fleet of 8 firefighting vehicles which include 2 Engines, 2 Brush trucks, 1 Tanker/Pumper, 1 SUV, 1 training car, and one ATV. These members are trained at a minimum level according to the standards set forth by the State of Florida and most of the members are employed with other agencies such as Putnam County, St. Johns County and Marion County. KHVFD purchases is own personal protective gear (which costs over $3,500.00 per member), uniforms, provides initial and annual training as required, and operates on a budget of less than $60,000 per year. All income to KHVFD is obtained through private donations and grants. Chief Mock estimated that KHVFD costs the County approximately $93,000.00 annually under the current contract. In April of 2013 that cost will be reduced by $19,000.00 a year due to the payoff of the Tender as cited in the contract. Clay County risk management estimated that the workers compensation, auto insurance, and liability insurance for KHVFD costs around $45,000.00 of the $93,000.00 amount annually. KHVFD board of directors offered to provide their own workers compensation, auto insurance, and liability insurance at a cost of $17,000.00 a year thus creating a savings in the cost of this insurance and releasing the County from the liability of providing such insurance. Chief Mock and County Manager have refused this savings. The contract indicates that the County “shall pay for” (not provide) such insurance. This insurance provided the members of KHVFD with more benefits than what Clay County currently provides. With the savings listed and the diligence of KHVFD members to conserve energy and operational costs, the current contract could be decreased by as much as $47,000.00 annually.
As the County Manager indicates in her memo, the County has no desire to renovate the building at 120 Flamingo Street. KHVFD acknowledged this desire during the leadership of Chief Ennist and offered Clay County the parcel of land at 135 Flamingo Street for free. KHVFD then offered to demolish the building at 120 Flamingo Street and let the County build a new station to house both entities. Clay County has refused both of those offers. It would be interesting to see how many times in the last 10 years significant capital funding has been approved in Clay County’s budget for the construction of a Fire Station in Keystone Heights which has not been completed..
As you can see, KHVFD provides to Clay County much more in value than it costs the County under the contract and a significant savings to the taxpayers. After April 2013, the contractual obligations of the County under the current contract could cost under $50,000.00 a year for a roster of 42 volunteers and all of the equipment it provides and operates to supplement the career firefighters of Clay County. Also keep in mind the manpower and equipment at KHVFD is figured into the County’s ISO rating and without KHVFD the ISO ratings and insurance savings to the community would significantly be affected. I encourage you to do some research on the value of this contract in order to arrive at a financially responsible decision before acting upon the County Managers memo.