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Fire board tables rattlesnake debate

September 5, 2012
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

What to do about the rattle snakes threat from property owned by the fire department near a Lehigh man's home was tabled by the Lehigh Acres Fire and Rescue Board at its monthly meeting held Aug. 23.

In addition, Rep. Matthew Caldwell, who represents Lehigh in the statehouse in Tallahassee, was on hand to talk about possible actions the board could table to avoid becoming insoluble due to the lack of money in the future to keep the fire department open.

And a Fort Myers computer network business owner said the threat of accusations of employees using the Internet for "inappropriate sites," said the system can be improved with an updated program.

Article Photos

Chief Don Adams

Of the four-member board David Adams, Jeff Berndt, and Larry Becker were the only ones present while Linda Carter, who was ill, participated via telephone hooked up to a loud speaker.

As for the snakes issues and what can be done about ridding a wooded area at the end of Richmond Ave. in the Greenbrier area of Lehigh, no decision could be made as what to do.

Chief Don Adams said he and some of his staff had visited the parcel on Richmond Ave. to gain information about the presence of rattle snakes next to the home of Bob Lambert who had been at the July meeting to complain about the rattle snake infested wooded area next to his home. He said he has had to shoot the snakes because they come into his yard and they are a threat to his family and grandchildren, who don't want to visit because of their fear of the snakes.

Chief Adams said clearing the property could cost $7,000 to clear the land. And while the fire district is short on funds, he said there is always the possibility that the fire could spread to the house which is close to the brush. He said he had contacted the Division of Forestry which indicated it was willing to assist if a burn-off of the site is decided upon.

Adams also said he has talked with environmental people who said there could be a problem in destroying local species of vegetation that is present.

Commissioner Linda Carter suggested a burn-off at the site and said it would be good training for the firefighters. She suggested to burn around the perimeter of the property, but the chief said firefighters were not trained in burn-offs or back-fires and it could be very dangerous.

It was even suggested that the fire board allow the resident next door to rent the parcel to clear off the brush where the snakes hide. It is a possible solution as he told The Citizen after the meeting that it was something he would consider. The chief also said signs warning people of snakes and no trespassing signs could be put on the property.

But Attorney Richard Pringle cautioned about possible legal problems and suggested that before any decision is made, that the fire district discuss possible options with its insurance firm. The local representative was at the meeting and said he would follow through with that suggestion.

Lambert, the next door to the parcel, said since the last meeting in July, a dog was fatally bitten by one of the rattle snakes. He said the dog's owner was walking his pet down the street and a snaked attacked the dog by diggings its fangs into the dog's neck.

"The owner tried to pull the snake off by grabbing the neck, but the snake had lodged itself into the dog. Finally the snake was pulled off and Lambert said the dog died shortly after from the poisonous venom injected by the snake.

"I'm afraid some child riding a bike in the area could be attacked by these snakes," Lambert said.

Meanwhile, Genesis Global Technology from Fort Myers presented a report about improper usage of the Internet-connected computers in all the fire stations could occur. There had been accusations made two months ago against the fire chief, claiming he was viewing "inappropriate sites." The chef referred to the accusation at the August meeting and vehemently denied the charge, made by Cathy Kruse, a candidate for a seat on the board.

Mona Hilton, the CEO, and Larry Thiel, a senior network engineer, gave a presentation as how the system works and how a program can be upgraded to prevent anyone from visiting inappropriate sites in all the fire stations.

"But Thiel said sometimes, sites will get through a fire wall. But he agreed to an upgrade the system as ordered by the fire chief and authorized by the board.

In other business, the chief announced that the SAFER grant has been extended from Aug. 13 to March 13, 2015 to which Board Chairman Jeff Berndt said was good news because firefighters' jobs would be protected longer with the FEMA extension.

Rep. Mathew Caldwell, who represents all of Lehigh, Alva, and North Fort Myers, was at the meeting to respond over a previous discussion with the chief and another fireboard member about possible ways to keep the fire department from becoming defunct. It is now supported by a millage rate but the amount is not enough to keep the department in business over the next couple of years. The department is being forced to dig into its reserves to continue service in its budgets.

Caldwell suggested that the board consider an assessment fee in addition to the traditional millage rate. The latter is used to finance fire fighters, but an assessment fee would covers EMTs and other functions of the department.

"This is legal and if you believe this is an option to help you, it will have to go to referendum to the people and you should contact Sharon Harrington, the supervisor of elections, so she can get the wording on the Lehigh ballots for the Nov. 6 election.

Commissioner Becker noted that the meeting he and the chief had with Caldwell was not illegal and that he would continue to do what he could to find ways to finance the fire district and even made a public plea for ideas from the public.

It was noted that if there is a referendum, the public would need to be educated, said Commissioner Carter, who indicated there was not enough time to educate the community as to why an assessment is necessary to keep the fire department afloat. The board will take up the issue in September. The board accepted a plaque of appreciation for firefighters who collected funds for last year's Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day weekend. Firefighters collect money in boots each year to help the cause.

Future meeting dates were announced when the board approved the fourth Tuesday of each month for the new fiscal year. Meetings would be held at 4 p.m. at Fire Station 4 unless otherwise changed. There was discussion for a Dec. 18 meeting since the fourth Tuesday falls on Christmas day.

The meeting room at Station 4 was filled with mostly employees of the fire district. The 4 p.m. change made a few months back at the urging of Cathy Kruse was hopefully done to attract more of the public to attend the meetings. She is a candidate for a seat on the fire board.



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