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Hernando Administrator meets with fire chief about gas usage


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BROOKSVILLE - County Administrator Len Sossamon met with the chief of the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department last week about what he believed was an unusually high amount of gas usage for his department vehicle the last fiscal year.

Sossamon asked Chief David Freda for supporting documents in the form of receipts or a log book to show where and when he gassed up.

But he said Freda did not have that material and so asked the chief to find it when he returns for a second meeting.

"I want to see his supporting materials," Sossamon said.

Sossamon said a firm date for that meeting has not been determined and didn't want to speculate as to what would happen if Freda could not produce documented evidence of gas usage.

Freda said Tuesday he has been turning in his gas receipts from his county-issued 2004 Ford Expedition, which he says only gets about 10 miles to the gallon. Freda said he didn't know who was responsible for the receipts or why they could not be accessed.

He also said that volunteer chiefs typically log more mileage than his district counterparts.

"I don't see it as an issue," Freda said of his gas usage.

Records supplied by the finance manager for Hernando County public safety, show Freda spent $5,345 from October 2012 through September 2013.

County Fire Chief Mike Rampino and Deputy County Chief Mike Nickerson spent $2,077 and $1,853 respectively during that same time frame.

The reports also show that County Assistant Chief Kevin Carroll spent $2,815.

Rampino, whose department pays all of Freda's bills - including gas charges - said he doesn't have any of the chief's receipts.

What he did have was a copy of Freda's odometer reading from his Expedition, which showed it at 66,239 on Oct. 5, 2012 and 86,561 as of September 27, 2013.

At about 20,000 miles a year, that amounts to an average 55 miles driven each day, Rampino said.

Rampino said he drives a 2007 Ford Explorer, with a V-6 engine, which probably gets less miles per gallon than Freda. Chief Carroll, drives the same vehicle as Freda, a 2004 Ford Expedition.

The county finance department shows there were no fires in Hernando Beach during the entire fiscal year in which Freda submitted his fuel report. There were four fire alarm calls, all of them false alarms, data showed.

The Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department assisted the sheriff's office on 272 medical calls from Oct. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013, according to the county finance office.

By comparison, former Hernando Beach Fire Chief Dan Chichester submitted a gas usage reimbursement report for $555 from July to November 2012, according to Laura Steele, finance manager for Hernando County Public Safety. Another former Hernando Beach fire chief, Steve Knowlton, submitted a bill of $1,531 from Dec. 3, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012, Steele said.

Rampino on Tuesday said he routinely requires his staff to keep receipts of gas usage and, if necessary, can also produce print-outs from the pump.

Rampino didn't want to comment on Freda.

Freda told Hernando Today his high gas usage was because of frequent trips to county commission meetings in Brooksville and trips to the state fire college in Ocala.

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.

County Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he is aware of the situation with Freda and is working with the fire chief and Sossamon to correct any problems.

Dukes said comparing Freda or any volunteer chief's gas usage to the county district chiefs is not apples to apples because district chiefs do not go out on most fire or emergency calls.

Freda must be available 24-7 and respond to most every call, which drives up mileage, he said.

Dukes also said there may be politics involved in this matter. There have always been attempts by paid firefighters to look down on volunteers because they could be seen as taking their jobs, Dukes said.

There have been attempted power grabs of volunteer fire departments before, most recently an unsuccessful attempt at High Point a few years ago, he said.

Dukes said if Freda has done something wrong he will have to be held accountable. But he thinks that is not the case here.

"If he didn't keep a record, it's because it's never been asked of them (Freda and former chiefs in Hernando Beach)," he said. "I'm going to work through this with him and if there needs to be corrections, we will make them.'

Dukes said he has taken an interest because, being a retired fire chief, Freda often seeks his advice. Also, Dukes lives in Hernando Beach and that is his fire department, he said.

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