- April 21, 2021
When smoke appears somewhere in Lakewood Ranch, part of the East Manatee Fire Rescue District, it often is cause for concern.
When a plume of smoke appears in the Myakka City Fire Control District, it could be just another day on the farm, according to East Manatee Fire Chief Lee Whitehurst.
“If it’s Farmer Jones burning?” Whitehurst said. “That’s OK.”
There are less than 200 days until the two fire districts are scheduled to finalize a merger that will see the Myakka City Fire Control District dissolve and become part of East Manatee. The two districts are waiting for a bill that would help finalize the merger to make its way through the Florida Legislature, but they’re not waiting to begin preparing.
Since November, the districts have been exchanging some firefighters to ensure they’re ready to work in parts of the county they’ve never worked before. Three Myakka City firefighters, Ray Sullivan, Trevor Garofalo and Ben Guth, currently are working with East Manatee according to Myakka City Fire Chief Danny Cacchiotti.
In addition to leading shifts, Sullivan said much of the increased responsibility revolves around helping East Manatee firefighters who have rotated to Myakka City understand the differences that come with being a firefighter in a rural area.
“It’s certain bridges you don’t cross,” Whitehurst said. “Certain gates you don’t open. There’s more than cattle running around out here. There’s a lot of circus folks, too. You don’t want to let the rhinoceros out.”
There are other differences the East Manatee firefighters need to know besides simply learning the ins and outs of Myakka, such as which driveways can fit a fire engine. For one, the types of fires are generally different. Myakka firefighters usually tend to brush fires, hay fires, tractor fires, barn fires and house fires instead of large stores like Walmart or five-story buildings.
“It's actually three-dimensional,” Garofalo said of brush fires. “It's growing in every direction. Where maybe a house fire, it's contained to one room and you have many resources on it. So that aspect can kind of play with your mind a little bit. You’ve got to be able to kind of wrap around the situation at hand. But when you get used to doing it, we all work well together.”
The two districts will continue this part of the process until legislation makes the merger official. The bill was evaluated by the state’s Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on March 16.
If and when Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the legislation, a Manatee County ordinance would make the merger official, effective Oct. 1. This would then allow the Myakka City fire district to transfer assets, such as buildings, equipment and anything else the district owns, to the East Manatee fire district.