Avon Park lays off 11 firefighters

- About 70-percent of Avon Park’s fire department will soon be looking for other jobs after they received their walking papers Wednesday morning.

"It's a kick. It's a kick in the stomach after all of the hard work that we have done. You have 267 years of experience in this department and you're going to cut it. You're just going to get rid of it," veteran firefighter Craig Marans said.

He is one of eleven Avon Park firefighters laid off after the city council failed to implement an annual fire tax.

"Which basically put us in a tight spot for the funding," city councilman Garrett Anderson said. "We have to come up with $860,000."

Four other firefighters toward the top of command will keep their jobs.

Earlier this summer, the city conducted a $40,000 fire assessment - the first since 1999 - to determine the department's efficiency and the number of different calls for service.

Based on that assessment, individual homeowner fire taxes went down, but business taxes skyrocketed.

Firefighters said the study is flawed since it determined it didn't account for medical-related calls.

"It concerns me a lot because I have more to handle than the average citizen," Brad Haislip said.

He is one of about 9,000 residents that depend on citywide fire service. Haislip is skeptical of volunteer fire service since he takes care of two disabled boys and two daughters, one with autism.

"[Volunteer firefighters] have to go from their job to the fire house, get dressed and then go to the call, which I'm guessing will be a lot longer time," he said.

Firefighters say it will be since, on average, they arrive within five minutes. They believe the volunteer response times will quadruple to about 20 minutes.

"My biggest concern about this not being a paid fire department is the people of this town will not get the safety that they deserve and the response from a paid fire department," Lonnie Shields, a 26 year firefighter, said.

Tuesday night more than 100 citizens were fired up at a town hall meeting. Councilman Anderson said they were generally concerned for their well-being.

The consensus: people would like the council to explore all options to keep the fire department as is.

The council meets next Monday at 6:00 p.m.

The laid-off firefighters will be employed through September 30.

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