In the years I have viewed the many diatribes of Councilman Walter McKenzie, I have never seen him fight for what is right for the Citizens;……. that is, until last night’s meeting.
Councilman McKenzie was fired up and ready to ask for Steve Stith’s resignation as Fire Chief of the White Springs Fire Department. But apparently Stith beat him to the punch by providing Ms. Tebo with his third resignation letter prior to the Council meeting. His his last day in accordance with his letter will be September 30th. The Audience was joyous to hear the news and everyone clapped and showed elation. That is except for Walter McKenzie who I have never seen remain this angry. He stated that the firefighters on the roster mainly live in Lake City but others live in Fort White and in Jacksonville. That is why it would take more than 45 minutes to respond. As you all may be aware, Walter McKenzie has been requesting information, for the last four months, as to the length of time it would take for the 12 firefighters who are on the roster to show up for a fire. He asked for nothing of a personal nature and had the right to inquire, but neither Ms. Tebo nor Mr. Stith would provide that information.
But the situation this week was a far more serious event. A Park Ranger suffered a heart attack at the Big Shoals. When Kevin Pittman was Fire Chief, the Department had drills at the Shoals and it took approximately four minutes for the White Springs Fire and Rescue to Respond. However our Park Ranger was not so fortunate and someone was attending him by providing artificial respiration for a period of twenty or more minutes and now he lies in a comma in the hospital. The White Springs Fire Department was contacted and there was no response. Yet the Sheriff’s Office Responded; The Hamilton County Sheriff’s office responded, the EMS unit responded, as did the White Springs Police Department. After the initial page it took 20 minutes for someone to show up; not the four minutes the Pittman Crew managed during drills. To add insult to injury, it was noted that Steve Stith was seen driving past the area and he did not stop to see if he could assist but just kept driving. Plus the WSFR was asked to set up the landing zone and they did not respond again. As Mayor Miller Stated, only the White Springs Police Department is willing and able to assist in these emergencies.
Mayor Helen Miller even suggested that the Police Department take over the Fire Department. Anger erupted by Councilman McKenzie’s request for Ms. Tebo to contact Kevin Pittman to see whether he could be Fire Chief again whether full or part-time. And he indicated that it was very wrong to have given him a complaint allowing Pittman only five minutes in which to respond. Council persons Spencer Lofton and Tonja Brown loudly voiced their opinion that Ms. Tebo has the only right to fire and hire someone and that the Council cannot get involved in Tebo’s job by telling her who she should hire and fire.
Councilman McKenzie indicated that it is the Council who sets policy and Mayor Miller stated the Charter requires a Fire Department which we have not had since the best Fire Chief White Springs ever had was required to resign. Councilman Tom Moore also read from the charter whereby the Council has the duty and obligation to protect the people of White Springs, which having a valid Fire Department is necessary protection.
Stacy Tebo said she had to digest what to do as she was only in receipt of the resignation letter this evening and her first thought was to speak to Mr. Land. Although it was suggested by Councilman McKenzie that perhaps we should have Hamilton County take over our fire department temporarily until we get this matter fixed, the council returned back to their original statements that Ms. Tebo needed to contact Mr. Pittman. Then shortly after Joe Griffin stood up in the aisle stating “Take The Vote”, the council voted for Ms. Tebo to speak to Mr. Pittman to see if he would consider coming back to be our Chief. Of course when a vote was taken, Brown and Lofton were against and McKenzie, Miller and Moore were for bringing Mr. Pittman back if he may again consider coming back..
Thomas Brazil Jr. explained that if consideration was made to have our Chief of Police Tracy Rodriquenz also be the Fire Chief, she would have to decide if she wished to go to Firefighter School for a Firefighter I or Firefighter II Certification. He suggested that the Town could assist those, including police officers, financially with the coursework, but it would be contingent upon the individual agreeing to volunteer for at least a period of two years. Tom Brazil also mentioned that many of the homes here are of the types of wood that should a fire start, the home would be burnt to the ground with such slow response times. Thomas Brazil also stated that there may be two firefighters with the experience to be chief (since the suggestion had been made by Lofton and or Brown, but they are not local. When Lofton asked who they were, Mr. Brazil stated he would check his phone and when he found the names, the Council was too busy arguing and Mr. Brazil was called out because of a fire call.
His father, Thomas Brazil Sr. said that what bothered him the most is that no one bothered to communicate with Kevin Pittman or straighten out the problem areas. Firing or requesting a resignation should be the last resort. Giving Kevin Pittman five minutes to handle the complaints against him was highly improbable, but we must remember, this matter was not only Stacy Tebo’s doing, but also Rhett Bullard, who wished his friend Andrew Green given opportunities no other person has been given in White Springs. Unfortunately for Bullard and Tebo, Kevin Pittman and the brotherhood of firefighters are honest and thus the Letter of No Confidence which caused a major issue.
Even former councilor Dennis Price spoke and stipulated that the situation of the fire department not responding is not new because it has been happening for years. In fact it was someone going past his home that realized he had a fire years ago.
The fire department will be discussed in an upcoming workshop a week from Wednesday or September 18th. We were very impressed with Walter McKenzie who changed history this evening by fighting for the people of White Springs.
Karin for the blog