Firefighters wait to hear from county over contract

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File photo [MCFR]
Ocala, Florida — On March 5, the Marion County firefighters presented to representatives of the Board of County Commissioners a proposed contract designed to help stop the exodus of experienced first responders.

To date, the county has yet to return with an offer of its own. In fact, the county has cancelled three meetings, the latest one being on June 1.

During a May 5 meeting, the union was supposed to have a negotiations meeting, but the commission cancelled.

During that meeting, Commissioner Carl Zalak said, “Until the Union decides to come to the table and get realistic, [negotiations are] going to be tough.”

“It was disheartening to hear [that] at a county commission meeting,” Ryan O’Reilly, PR director for the Professional Firefighters of Marion County said. “It seemed as if they canceled a negotiations meeting just to publicly attack us. We were very confused by it.”

But firefighters remain hopeful that most of the commissioners are committed to correcting the longstanding issues facing Marion County Fire Rescue, including lagging response times, an aging ambulance fleet, and an exodus of experienced firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs.

The county commissioners are holding two public hearings in June: one on Monday, June 8, and the other on June 22. Both are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

The purpose of the meetings is to discuss increasing the fire assessment fee.

Currently, all households pay $165.99 annually, which only funds the fire department.

The firefighters association sent a letter to the BOCC advocating that the county raise the fee from $165.99 to $220 annually.

“It is a nominal increase that would only cost a household an additional $4.50 a month,” O’Reilly said.

A recent poll commissioned by the professional firefighters, and conducted by Triton Polling and Research, showed that 73 percent of Marion County residents would agree to raise fees for Fire and Emergency Medical Services by $5 a month.

“Now is not the time to come up with piecemeal solutions that will not address the issues at hand. Investing in your Fire and Emergency Medical Services is supported by the citizens. All it takes now is the will to act,” President of the Professional Firefighters of Marion County, Jay Boardman, wrote. He added, “While this may not fully fix the long-standing issues within MCFR, it will certainly go a long way to correcting many of these issues.”

In the meantime, the firefighters have started a petition and created a website describing the issues facing the community, located at

Firefighters are hoping the website will help raise community awareness.

“It is critical for the citizens to know what is happening,” O’Reilly said. He went on to say, “If the commissioners choose not to adequately fund fire and emergency medicine in Marion County they need to be honest with the citizens about how they will have to decrease the level of service.”

“There is only so long that a department can be in deficit spending before it collapses,” O’Reilly said.

Firefighters say that fixing these issues now is becoming increasingly critical due to a statewide retirement boom coming to a head this time next year.

“Last year we lost 60 employees. Deputy Chief Paul Nevels told you that we have nearly lost 60 employees in the first 6 months of this year. And, if you think this is bad, wait until the state wide retirement boom coming this time next year. Our members will be able to write their own ticket to any department in the state of Florida,” Boardman stated to the commissioners.

Since pay freezes came nearly 5 years ago, MCFR has lost around 220 first responders. Boardman explained that these employees had combined over 1,100 years of experience, costing the taxpayers over $44 million in wages alone and nearly $3 million in replacement cost.

Boardman further added that all of this money was spent to grow these employees into highly skilled and trained first responders, only for them to leave to serve other communities. Now MCFR cannot even replace the paramedics who leave.

“The question is no longer, ‘How can we afford to keep our first responders,’ but rather, ‘how can we afford to lose them?’” Boardman stated.

So far in just over a week, the firefighters have been able to get over 2,200 people to sign their petition.

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  • MCFR

    Ole jay boardman… I’m sure if they knew how big of a prick he was no one would be feeling bad for him Gahaha! Karma’s a bitch ain’t it jay… Keep rotting at the county dude!

    • Steve

      Your petty, shortsighted comment speaks volume about your character. Take a shot while hiding behind a keyboard because that will garner you respect. You are a coward.

  • Tina Clifford

    There really are not that many house fires to fight, showing up for every fender bender is a total waste of time and money. A fire house on every corner and taking the fire trucks to the grocery store are just a few budget wastes too. Cut more before increasing our taxes. You say it’s just a little, it is always a little, but we can’t afford paying any more. Each and every government dept needs to cut costs drastically. All they look at is getting more people into the county to help pay bigger fees. Stop the bleed.

    • Wesley Heckman

      I bet you would pay a $1,000.00 bucks a ticket to watch a sports GAME ( a total waste of time and money) They get millions to play a GAME, but those who keep you safe get pennies. Wait until its your house then the tide will turn.

      • Tina Clifford

        No sports salaries are crazy too. The fire dept use to be volunteer. Cut costs…..That is the solution to any budget problem. Just ask the people who are living on a budget that you want to impose another fee on. Sorry but I see waste.

        • Steve

          They’ve cut cost. So much so the department will be 3.3 MILLION in the red at current spending levels. Big bucks? How about a fair wage? How about after 8 years I only make 5K less than I would in Alachua or Lake instead of 15k. Is that too much to ask? Funny how you make it seem MCFR has an over abundance of stations or staff but seldom have I heard “thank you for being so quick” when arriving on scene of a house fire or cardiac arrest. I have on many occasions had a resident scream in my face “what took you so long” while they watched their house burn down with all their belongings or a love one slowly turn blue as they take their last breath. Nevermind that the closest station is 10-15 miles away.

        • Yeah right…

          So in conclusion I have a question. How many medics do you think you should have respond to you if you’re suffering a heart attack or better yet you’re in cardiac arrest and unresponsive? Or how about a multi car accident and you’re pinned under a semi and your life is measured in minutes, not hours, days or years? Or if you wake up to find your child unresponsive? Or if you’re having difficulty breathing because of a allergic reaction or shortness of breath from asthma or emphysema and what make only be minutes to fix the problem by a trained and experienced medic feels like hours of effort for you? This job is thankless for the most part by people like you that think I’m a waste of money until it’s your house, your child, your parent, sibling, etc… And even after I save your life or the one of the person you love so dearly, you still question my methods of delivery.. Haha… Can’t please them all can you.. Guess we know where you stand… The other 27% that don’t want to pay $4.50 more a month but have no problem “wasting money” on McDonald’s or Burger King or that all important cup of coffe on your way to work..

        • shane

          Ignorance sure is bliss isn’t it ?

    • Elizabeth Tillis

      True there are not that “many” house fires, but it matters if it’s your house. The fire dept supplies all your Paramedics and EMTs to the heart attacks, strokes, breathing problems, car wrecks, house fires, and any other medical emergency in this county. It’s pathetic that someone who works at a fast food restaurant makes more money than someone who is to be available 24/7 for any emergency that may happen in their zone. It is pathetic that a paramedic that is supposed to save your life gets started at $10.98 an hr and the EMTs are paid less. How can you get quality personnel with that kind of pay. You can’t you get people right out of school that use this place as “practice” and a stepping stone. As a former 8 year medic with MCFR I can tell you that you CAN NOT live on this pay without having 3-4 other jobs. I loved the job but was getting run down having to work so many other jobs just to survive. I know on a first hand basis what these men and women go through. I would willing pay more in taxes for quality, educated, trained personnel at MCFR.

    • Patricia Tillis Caldwell

      Are you serious? The fire department does not ONLY go to house fires. HAHAHHAHAA! I’m sorry but that’s funny. They respond to emergency calls PERIOD! Also “taking fire trucks to the grocery store….” NOW I REALLY think your kidding. If you are seeing a fire truck at the grocery…well it’s likely THEY ARE POSTED THERE! LOLOLOL They aint grocery shopping! And I’d love to know where we have a fire house on every corner in OCALA (again if they had that you wouldn’t see them parked at the grocery….you know at their post) because I have lived here 37 years and never noticed an over abundance of fire houses but maybe I’m crazy? Our emergency personnel are being ROBBED each hour on their shift. If you saw their paycheck you would be disgusted…or if you are not you SHOULD BE. I agree with the fact it’s ridiculous that people flipping burgers are making the same AND AT TIMES MORE THAN the people that came to my house and SAVE MY DISABLED SIEZING TWO YEAR OLD’S LIFE or the guy that held the pressure on the HUGE KNOT on my forehead after being rear ended in a car accident. I will never understand such ignorance. Please educate yourself. I just can’t even.

      • Tina Clifford

        Yes every emergency call???Really why is a fire truck showing up to fender benders, you got it to get their call response numbers up. Yes I have seen them grocery shopping, I’m to crazy, you have a odd perceptive on the world. Not everyone can make big bucks. Sorry

        • Yeah right…

          Padding call numbers? You must have MCFR confused with OFD. Because no matter how many units show up to one call, it’s just one incident number.. Thus the 60k call or more we ran last year were all individual calls… Hmmm what a concept..

    • Yeah right…

      You’re extremely undereducated… Fire trucks on fender benders are to control traffic and protect the firefighters on scene and the injured parties from further injury… You must be one of Carl Zalak’s cronies… Only he would complain about such stupid little safety measures while we protected him on his car wreck. Also fire trucks go to grocery stores to get food because we’re there 24hiurs lady!!! I’m guessing you don’t grocery shop for your family (which is what these men and women are, my second family) but instead go buy some overpriced fast food va eating healthy. Wouldn’t want healthy firefighters or anything would you? Oh and as far as your volunteer comment… That increases response times… Just as another education point… Since you obviously need an abundance of this… You know there are forms you can fill out so you can experience what we go thru on a regular basis… In fact I beg you, please come for one day… You know last shift I was only at my station for a total of 4 hours in a 24 hour day and that’s including my time to sleep. You wouldn’t last a day in my life… So feel free to step in our shoes before mouth off about budget cuts and take money from my wife and kids mouths.