It's taken years of fighting, trips to the County Commission meetings, public hearings and private anguish but at last Suwannee County has a Fire Board, and it's moving toward making the county and volunteer fire fighters responsible, well-trained, well-equipped partners in fighting fires.

That board just last week finally got a set of bylaws approved by the County Commission that has taken more than a year to work up and more hours than any of the five board members and one alternate would like to remember. The bylaws establish the Fire Board as a board operating under the County Commission with full authority to do its job of overseeing the county's volunteer fire service (VFS). Part of the board's job will be to determine what equipment is needed to upgrade volunteer departments, get that equipment, see that it's kept in good order and make sure training is kept up-to-date for the volunteer fire fighters. The board also is working to improve relations between the volunteers and the county.

While accepting the Fire Board's bylaws, the County Commission honored Walt Sage, the first appointed chairman who has retired for medical reasons. Sage is the man who has labored for years to try and fix the VFS and continued that effort since he was appointed by the County Commission to make the group a cohesive board that could move forward by putting the past VFS issues behind it and open new doors for a bright future for volunteer fire fighters in Suwannee County. Sage was presented a plaque honoring him for his efforts.

Cleatus McCook, District 1 appointee to the Fire Board, who is the Falmouth VFD Chief and a long-time volunteer fire fighter, was appointed chairman upon Sage's retirement. McCook has been one of the movers and shakers over the years in getting better equipment, better training and recognition from the county for what the VFS does for the citizens.

Each county commissioner appoints a Fire Board member and the entire board votes on an alternate member. If the Fire Board chairman can't be at a meeting, the alternate serves as chairman. Board members are McCook (Dist. 1), Paul Gamble (Dist. 3), Bill Walters (Dist. 4) Tim Nagy (Dist. 2) and Tracy Dowdy (Dist. 5). The alternate is Ronnie Cook.

Suwannee County Fire Coordinator Johnny Howard said the efforts to establish the Fire Board have been underway for a long time to merge career fire fighters and volunteers into a cohesive group that can and will work together for the good of the community. Howard said that effort is now working and as evidence of their cooperation, five new brush trucks and two tankers have recently been ordered from Eone in Ocala.

Howard said the brush trucks cost about $75,000 each, while the tankers cost $165,000 each. Howard said when the brush trucks arrive, three will go to Suwannee County Fire/Rescue stations one, two and three. Two older brush trucks currently being used by two of these stations will then be distributed to VFS stations yet to be determined, along with the remaining two new brush trucks.

One of the tanker trucks will be stationed at the new McAlpin Suwannee County Fire Rescue station while the placement of the other new tanker truck has yet to be determined.

The order for all seven new fire trucks was placed Jan. 4, Howard said. "This will be the first rotation of trucks, and I hope to get a steady rotation going so everyone will eventually have new or newer trucks at some point," Howard stated. Howard said he's very pleased with the work of the Fire Board and looks forward to the changes that are underway.

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