Bradford county sheriff put in charge of fire department

BRADFORD CO., Fla. (WCJB) - UPDATE 5/17/19
Bradford County's sheriff is now also the chief for the County fire department.

6 weeks ago the previous fire chief and his assistant chief resigned after they brought a plan to the county commission to move from a 100 percent volunteer based fire department to 100 percent paid professionals. That change however would have come at the price of a 300 dollar yearly tax to citizens, a tax hundreds protested.

Sheriff Smith says he took on the extra role for now but is in the process of hiring a department director to actually take care of the day to day duties.

"Right now my fitting into this position is really out of immediate needs. The people in our county need to know when they lay down heir heads at night and something happens there's somebody to serve them and respond to those emergency calls."

The department will run as a hybrid operation with a few paid professionals ready to answer calls and volunteers to back up if needed.

Alexander Hatch is Lawtey's volunteer fire chief and also a paid county firefighter he said, "my volunteers they work full-time jobs you can't expect them to answer the calls all the time. So putting a paid system in place at least on a part-time basis to cover that gap when these volunteers are working is going to provide a service to the citizens. When they call 911 a firetruck will actually show up and that's something desperately needed."

Almost two thirds of Bradford County's volunteer firefighters quit after the public uproar following the proposed tax. Sheriff Smith says everyone needs to know his goal is to run an efficient department with only the funds already in place.

"The issue of adding the tax, to the citizens of Bradford County is off the table, it's done, it's a dead issue. However they, the commission, said if they bring it back up again in the future it will be sent out to the voters."

Sheriff Smith says after a director is hired the next process is to inventory every fire station in the county. Then re-examine budgets to find the best way to make every dollar count, as well as look towards and plan for future expenses which may be needed.

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There's a new man in charge of the Bradford County Fire Department... It's the sheriff!

Bradford County commissioners voted unanimously to put Sheriff Gordon Smith in charge of the fire department.

A spokesperson for the sheriff's office tells TV20 the decision was made after both the fire chief and assistant chief resigned over a month ago.

The change has already gone into effect.