September 23,2007 Coral Springs Fl: Whatever happened to the days when volunteers performed work through the goodness of their heart and not their pocket book? My reference is the current $140,000 settlement that our city commissioners made with some disgruntled volunteer firefighters ( hereinafter called the “Rat Pack” ) that were let go back in 2002. The attorneys for the volunteers get $100,000, the Volunteers get about $4,000 each. After 5 years of litigation with the cost of city attorneys, court costs and time costs, the total fiasco has cost the taxpayers of Coral Springs close to $1,000,000. All this so some selfish individuals could make a point. ( See Sunsentinel Article click here. )
Let me fill you in on how we got to spending $1,000,000 of taxpayers money so you can make up your mind concerning the issues.
Back in the year 2000, which was the birth year of this website, the City of Coral Springs with over 110,000 people had almost an entirely volunteer fire department with a few professionals to supplement the partimers. The department had a terrible record, with response times exceeding certifiable limitations and in some cases deadly. It was behind the times, created when there were less people in this city than Mayberry. So we posed this question to the city of Coral Springs commissioners: how could we afford a ‘Doggy park’ and a white elephant City Center, but can’t afford to pay for a fully professional Fire Department that would keep us safe 24/7?
At that time, the City Commissioners convened a SWOT team that looked at all aspects of the city’s fire fighting capabilities and determined in their report that more paid professional fire fighters were needed, and gave their recommendation to move the city toward a fully paid department supplemented by volunteers. The City Commissioners didn’t listen to their own committee and decided they knew better. They came up with a plan that kept the same ol’ volunteer fire department in place while at the same time lifting any ceilings on payment of stipends to volunteers. Paid Volunteers? Was this not an oxymoron? It turns out that our volunteers were getting paid – but not enough according to the commissioners. Pay them more money and they will volunteer more was their attitude.
A few things happened after that which made asses of the City and the City Commissioners:
1. Some greedy volunteers made a lot of money under the new system as a few were running the clock up taking advantage of the system with little supervision of their actual time . Sun sentinel reported it. $3500 on one month for one and $2500 for the other. With no controls in place, the Oxymorons were making a ton of money with no increase in response times – leaving the city with more costs but not safe.
2. Then, a Car caught fire 1 block from station 43. No one was at the station. The Sun Sentinel reported that too.
In fact not only did Coral Springs look like the biggest asses in Broward County, but the perception was that we were this dangerous place filled with a ‘Three Stooges’ style fire department that couldn’t even put a fire out next to their station. Finally there was also a report of an abuse of a woman firefighter at the same station.
In the Volunteer days, there was only one station located on Coral Springs drive that was open for business 24/7 manned by the pro’s. The attitude was that with one station fully manned, they would be able to head out to the fire and start fighting it while waiting for the volunteers to show up. However, with a denser population coming into being due to zoning changes that increased the amount of apartments in the city more calls were coming in. In 2000, a house literally burnt to the ground due to the poor response time. There was even a concern amongst some professionals that we could not fight 2 incidents at the same time while maintaining the response times that were standard with other fire departments.
To make matters worse, the volunteers carried beepers to be alerted when a fire was happening in the city. There really was no system. All the volunteers would be paged at the same time and if they decided to show up, the fire could be fought. None of the professionals really knew how many or who would show up. There was no commitment. Morale was low. Disorganization was abound. Egg was on our faces and our citizens were at risk. All of this from a fire department with ‘Paid’ volunteers. My definition for a Paid volunteer is called ‘Part Time Worker’. We all believed that what was needed were professionals and not amateurs. Citizens complained about their tax dollars being wasted.
Finally, toward the last quarter of 2000 , the City of Coral Springs, with so much public outcry, did the right thing: They decided to be a city with a full time Professional Fire Department supplemented with some volunteers instead of the other way around. They hired a Professional Fire Chief for the transformation. When the Pro’s came along, we had a well trained fire department that was manning all of the fire department stations 24/7 with the exception of one located on Coral Ridge Drive and Riverside.
The transformation or turn of events, did not sit kindly with the volunteers who felt that they were left out, or sold out as they said by the city commission and the city manager Mike Levenson. In fact they were. There were many firefighters who volunteered their time to the citizens of Coral Springs, and would have probably done so without pay. However, where there is cheese there are rats, and a few volunteers ended up making it their calling to discredit the professionals and the new Coral Springs Fire Department and at the same time bringing dedicated volunteers into a frying pan that they did not want to be in. The Fire Chief then forced the volunteers to meet the same standards as the professionals, a move that made sense since the professionals had to rely on the volunteers and needed them to be better trained so that no mistakes would be made that would put anyone at risk. Many volunteers were able to pass the test, but others could not make it. They were not good enough, simply put. They were also the loudest to complain.
Back in 2002 the leader of the Rat Pack of disgruntled volunteers was fired. Apparently for what the department called ’cause’ . A year earlier he stopped a car by flashing a badge and saying the words ‘ Pull Over’ to a motorist. ( Also reported in the Sun Sentinel ). In fact he was ‘volunteering’ his time and efforts to help the police department their efforts to thwart unruly motorists. There was a joke going around the Police Department that they owed this person some stipends since he volunteered his time to the department, without anyone asking him. Some other volunteers were let go as well, for not making the mark that was set by the Fire Department Chief. To be fair, the firing of the leader took place 10 days after he complained about the conditions that the volunteer’s were experiencing.
Upset and playing the victim, the Rat Pack leader and his disciples decided to sue the city for millions of dollars in March of 2002 ( click on the picture on the right for court details ) since they were denied the ability to Volunteer their time. So this week, the City commissioners of Coral Springs decided to settle with the Rat Pack rather than fight the fire. To be fair with the City Commissioners, none of them were in office when the lawsuit was taken out. However, there is a known fact in this city that anyone could get money from them if they sue. The city has no backbone and settles with anyone suing them , 100% of the time, while at the same instant paying their attorneys millions of our dollars. Bad enough we have to pay volunteers, but worse when we pay out so much money on attorney fees. Even I know of an attorney that can lose a case for less money then we pay the city’s. That’s another issue.
So now, the Rat Pack calls it a victory for the citizens of Coral Springs. Each of the 10 volunteers end up with $4000 and their attorneys end up with $100,000. On the other hand, the cost of this case to the citizens of Coral Springs is $140,000 + Court Costs + City Attorney Fees. This probably amounts to close to $1,000,000 . Why can’t the volunteers voluntarily give back the money to the citizens?
Disgusting as it may seem good volunteers who gave so much to the city, and are still doing their best to protect the citizens of Coral Springs are not well represented by these few opportunists. The Rat Pack has done absolutely nothing to change anything in the way the Coral Springs Fire Department operates. The reason is that we have professionals on the job. Our city has never been safer. Response times are better than most cities of our size across the country. The issues of the past are gone. Volunteers are still working along side professionals and receiving the same training. We have become a safer place to live, work and raise a family.
To the rat pack: Spare us the self righteousness of claiming Victory with your miniscule settlement and the audacity to say that this is for the good of the citizens of Coral Springs. Take the taxpayer’s money and choke on it. While doing so, at least you know that you can depend on the professional Coral Springs Fire Department, which you have nothing to do with and opposed. They will be there within 4 minutes to save your life along with those well trained and respected volunteers that you now have nothing to do with.