County takes over fire-rescue coverage in Waldo

Waldo's volunteer fire department was officially absorbed by County Fire Rescue.

Published: Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

The exchange of a firefighter helmet, a few handshakes, and lots of cake marked the end of the volunteer fire department in Waldo on Wednesday.

Today the department that has formally served the small town since the 1960s is a part of the Alachua County Department of Public Safety.

The most significant changes are that volunteers will no longer be responding to fires and other emergencies. Instead, paramedics paid by Alachua County will be responding.

City manager Kim Worley said the change was made because of rising costs and growing uncertainty about financial help from Alachua County in the future.

"It was costing us $389,000 a year to operate the department out of a budget of $1.7 million," Worley said. "It took all of our ad valorem money plus some money from the county to cover the fire department expenses and the county's funding is not a certainty."

As of today, the city's six career employees now work for the Alachua County Department of Public Safety.

Two will remain assigned to the Waldo station and the other four have been assigned elsewhere in the county.

With the outgoing and the incoming employees looking on, Alachua County Fire Chief Ed Bailey accepted a Waldo firefighter helmet.

In the weeks leading up to the changeover, the former Waldo employees were outfitted with the same bunker gear and uniforms issued to all other county firefighters.

Wednesday's brief ceremony marking the changeover was a chance to recall how the department got its start in the late 1960s.

"There was a loose organization here before we got organized in 1969," said Mayor Louie Davis. "Once we got organized, we had an agreement. The city would pay for this building and the (fire) department would pay for a truck."

The $10,000 metal building is still standing, but that truck is long gone, replaced by four other vehicles, including three that the city is handing over to the county and one that is older than the county policy allows for.

A 1990 model engine capable of carrying 1,000 gallons of water is being donated to the Alachua County School Board for use by students in its firefighter program.

Bailey said his agency is planning to eventually replace the aging building where firefighters work in 24-hour shifts.

"Our arrangement was that the city provides the county the property, and the county will eventually construct a new station here," Bailey said. "We have requested federal stimulus money for a new building, but I don't know whether we will get that."

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