BROOKSVILLE - The fire chief of the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department spent more money on fuel the last fiscal year than the chief and deputy chief of Hernando County combined.
Records supplied by the finance manager for Hernando County public safety show Hernando Beach Fire Chief David Freda spent $5,345 from October 2012 through September 2013.
County Fire Chief Mike Rampino and Deputy Chief Mike Nickerson spent $2,077 and $1,853, respectively, during that time frame.
The reports also show County Assistant Chief Kevin Carroll spent $2,815.
Laura Steele, finance manager for Hernando County Public Safety, said she found Freda's high gas usage, as compared to the other chiefs, surprising.
But Steele said her job is only to record the numbers.
"There's a stipulation with Hernando Beach where we're not allowed to tell them what to do with their money," Steele said.
Freda and his staff do not report to the county fire chief but "we assist them with their bills and with monitoring of their gas cards," she said.
County Administrator Len Sossamon, who supervises the chiefs' gas usage, was on vacation and declined to comment on the data because he had not seen the numbers.
Sossamon said he plans to talk with each chief, possibly this week, and go over the reports, and each will have to account for the fuel reports.
"I'll take a look at it and see," he said.
County Commissioner Jim Adkins, a retired Brooksville fire chief, said the numbers do seem high and it will be up to Sossamon to determine if they need further review.
Adkins said he is not sure how much latitude the county has in dealing with a volunteer fire department but, regardless, there needs to be accountability for all chiefs, he said.
Freda credited the high gas usage to being new on the job and attending more county commission meetings in downtown Brooksville than normal.
Freda celebrated one year as chief in October.
Freda said he had several issues with a department truck and had to travel to Fort Myers twice for a new engine. He traveled in his department vehicle to Bradenton to see about repairing a ladder truck for Hernando Beach, he said.
Freda said there were trips to the state fire college in Ocala and a conference in Daytona Beach.
Freda said volunteer fire department officials typically travels more than their county counterparts because they can be called from anywhere in the county at anytime.
County chiefs, he said, normally just drive their vehicles to and from their office.
"We do a lot more training out of the area as opposed to the county, which does in-house training," Freda said.
Freda said there were also some problems with the gas cards at the start of his term, which may have accounted for the higher number.
The fire chiefs can fuel their department vehicles two different ways. They can use the county's fleet pumps in Brooksville, where they punch in a code with their county-issued gas card.
They can also visit any gas station and use their account card, which prompts the user to submit the vehicle odometer reading and personal PIN number. The chief then pumps the gas, takes the receipt and turns it in.
Rampino said he reviews all fuel reports in his department monthly and examines them for inconsistencies. He didn't want to comment on other chiefs' gas usages.
The High Point community, which has the only other volunteer fire entity in Hernando County, is not monitored by the county finance office because it is independent and works on donations.
Joe Curcio, chief of the High Point Volunteer Fire Department, said his entire department spent $1,700 the last fiscal year.
His department consists of a deputy chief, an assistant chief and two captains - all of whom buy their own gas and pay for it themselves to cover the 1,700-home community off State Road 50. Only two of the three chiefs at High Point have fire department vehicles.
"Everyone's willing to spend a little and give a lot of time," Curcio said.
For example, Deputy Chief Bob Kanner said he spends about $80 a month for his duties and does not seek reimbursement
"I pay for my own fuel," he said.
County Commission Chairman Dave Russell said the gas usage by Freda will have to be justified and it merits a look.
"It's something that we will need an explanation on and we will wait until (Sossamon) gets back," Russell said.
Russell said he knows from the fleet of vehicles involved in his pool business that gas costs can escalate as high as $4,000 to $5,000 annually.
"Obviously, if (Freda's) numbers back it up, then that's the cost of doing business," Russell said.