New agreement brings county firefighters back to Hawthorne

Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 5:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 5:11 p.m.

By September, Alachua County firefighters and emergency medical crews once again will be operating out of downtown Hawthorne with a new agreement between the city and Alachua County.

The agreement officially ends a feud that saw the city of Hawthorne start its own department only to have it fold within a year.

Hawthorne will give Alachua County the firehouse on Johnson Street, enabling the county to vacate a doublewide mobile home in Grove Park from which it had been operating a station since 2008.

Hawthorne City Commissioner Matt Surrency, who took the lead for the city in mending relations shortly after he was elected, and Alachua County Fire Rescue Chief Ed Bailey said the move will be beneficial for both sides.

"Since 2009, I've been working to get them back in Hawthorne, and it's now coming to resolution. Due to the past history … there was a lot of hesitation," Surrency said. "This is about saving lives. A few minutes can make a difference."

Alachua County used to operate out of the fire station with the city paying the county to provide fire service. In 2008, the county wanted more money from the cities in which ACFR provides service, saying the cost of providing service was rising.

Hawthorne did not want to make higher payments and started its own fire department, charging residents an annual fee to pay for it.

But the money raised was not enough to operate the department, and it was disbanded in 2009.

At the time, ACFR created a station on Hawthorne Road a few miles west of the city at Grove Park.

Bailey said the small Grove Park community gets faster service as a result, but the population center of Hawthorne gets slower service.

With the new changes, Bailey said, the area with the most people will get the faster response times.

Bailey said a consulting firm that recently evaluated fire services throughout the county recommended that the county move the station back into Hawthorne.

"We will have quicker response times to the highest area of call demand," Bailey said, adding that the animosity between the county and Hawthorne over fire service "has flushed out of the system."

Some work will have to be done on the building before it is ready for the county to move into, Bailey said.

With the move back to Hawthorne, the county now will operate in the unincorporated area and in several cities. The cities with their own departments are Newberry, High Springs, Micanopy and LaCrosse.

Volunteer departments work in several unincorporated communities, including Windsor and Cross Creek.

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