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Commissioner's proposal to consolidate Hernando fire chiefs shot down

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Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2014 at 08:14 PM

BROOKSVILLE - County Commissioner Diane Rowden presented to the board Tuesday a plan she said streamlines operations of the Hernando County Fire District and saves taxpayers about $100,000.

She even passed out a diagram outlining the proposed plan, which eliminates one chief's position and moves others up in the organization.

But her fellow board members didn't want to listen.

"Commissioner, I'm looking at this, I don't want to talk about it today," Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said.

"Me either," Commissioner Nick Nicholson said.

Rowden's plan comes as the county looks to replace Fire Chief Mike Rampino, who resigned last Friday to accept a fire chief position in Manatee County.

Under her plan, Interim Fire Chief Mike Nickerson and Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Carroll would share leadership duties of the department. Three district chiefs would be under the two chiefs and would be responsible for the eastside, central and westside parts of the county.

Most district chiefs can act as chief if both Nickerson and Carroll need to be out of the area.

In addition, there are 14 fire houses in the county and each house has a captain.

Counting the two chiefs, district chiefs and captain, that means there are 19 supervisors available at any time, she said.

The taxpayers would save an estimated $100,000 by not replacing Rampino, she said.

Dukes and Nicholson said they would not discuss fire department manpower because it was not formally on the agenda. Besides, fire department manpower is County Administrator Len Sossamon's job, Nicholson said.

Rowden then asked if her plan could be placed on the next meeting's agenda in two weeks.

"We need to be able to talk about this," she told Dukes. "This is very important for our county."

She could not get a consensus from her four colleagues, who all said they wanted to wait until the advertisement for a new chief replacing ran its course.

Rowden said she wanted to discuss an alternative plan before the ad expired March 25 because, if shown to be workable, it might make the hiring of another chief moot.

"She's trying to affect the outcome," Dukes told the board. "It's inappropriate."

The chairman then closed further conversation and went directly to the next item on the agenda, which happened to be commissioners' closing comments.

Rowden continued her discussion saying Hernando County has gone through some tremendous challenges in the past few years, especially in 2013 with the consolidation of its departments.

Rowden said it makes sense to promote in-house. To seek a new fire chief elsewhere is a slap in the face to the men and women who have worked hard, have a working knowledge of Hernando County and yet are passed up for coveted leadership roles when the situation arrives, she said.

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