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Alachua County Resolves Dispute With Melrose Volunteer Fire Department

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A 12-day standstill has ended.

The Melrose Volunteer Fire Department and Alachua County Fire Department have come to an agreement. The Melrose station servicing Alachua County areas is back in service tonight.

The dispute started last April when another fire station in Alachua County presented to the Board of County Commissioners their concerns over the safety of a fire station staffed with a one-person crew at night.

Alachua County Fire Rescue Chief Bill Northcutt was at the meeting in April and realized that another Alachua County employee was facing the same danger but at the Melrose station.

“Firefighting is dangerous,” he said. “It takes at least four people to go into a (burning) house, under state law.”

Melrose’s station operates with 20 volunteer responders. The previous agreement included an additional full-time firefighter — an Alachua County employee.

Northcutt’s recommendation to the board: terminate a longstanding contract with the Melrose station and suspend the services of the full-time firefighter at the station starting Jan. 1.

“Us cancelling the agreement is a legal semantic,” he said. “That’s the only way we can force renegotiation of that contract.” The Melrose station is under Putnam County authority. But since 2001, because of its proximity to Alachua County’s eastern edge, it has operated under an agreement with Alachua County to service its easternmost areas as well.

While Northcutt didn’t want Alachua County employees working at the Melrose station, he did want to continue a partnership. He spoke to the chief of the Melrose Volunteer Fire Department, Joe Clark, and offered $134,000 if Melrose hired its own full-time employee.

“By us only hiring one person, we were pretty much saying it’s OK to have one person at one time when somebody else is saying it’s unsafe,” Clark said.

As an alternative, Alachua County offered Melrose $45,000 annually to operate solely as a mutual aid response unit.

“Forty-five thousand dollars is not enough money to run a fire department…,” Clark said.

“The other stations they compared us to — Cross Creek Fire Department is doing a GoFundMe page to raise money for equipment.”

The dispute was settled unanimously at Tuesday evening’s hearing.

The Melrose Volunteer Fire Department’s funding will be restored to $134,767, and the station’s service to eastern Alachua County areas will resume Tuesday night.

The Melrose station will also hire two full-time firefighters in hopes of keeping them permanently if $9,000 more is approved for its budget.

This solution is considered temporary until Oct. 1, when a new budget goes into effect.

About Alexa Lightle

Alexa is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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