BRADFORD COUNTY, Fla. – The Bradford County Commission voted to have the Sheriff’s Office taken over the fire department.
The move was made after the former fire chief resigned and about two-thirds of the volunteers left the department, leaving some residents concerned for their safety should there be an emergency.
Sheriff Gordon Smith, who's now also the fire chief, made his first priority rebuilding the fire department’s manpower.
"I have been called a lot of things -- fire chief hadn’t been one of them," Smith told News on Monday. "But I will tell you what, it is exciting."
Bradford County is now the third county in the state where the Sheriff’s Office runs the fire department.
Over the past few weeks, Smith has brought on a new team with experience that he believes will help make a difference in the community.
"We are not looking back. Our job here is not to fuss about what happened in the past. I don't care," he said. "Mine is to get to where we need to be going and to know that our citizens can go lay their head in their pillows at night and know when something happens, our community is there to serve them and that’s what this is really all about."
Donald K. Bennett, who spent three decades working in fire protection for the Department of Defense, is now Bradford County’s fire services director.
"For some reason, we have had a decline in our manpower in the last year or year and a half," Bennett said. "We are meeting with the firefighters. We are reaching out to them. We are finding out what caused this problem."
Looking ahead, the plan is to hire about 14 paid, part-time firefighters and recruit 60 to 75 volunteers --both active duty and support.
"The most important thing, which is our No. 1, priority is our people," Bennett said.
On Thursday, officials from the Walton County Sheriff’s Office will be in Bradford County to pass along pointers from their experience taking over the volunteer fire department.
"Hopefully it will be a little more organized, everyone will work with them in the community and things will turn out for the better for everybody," said Jane Green, who lives in Bradford County.