Battalion Commander John R. Wayne is the new interim chief of the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District. He was named to take over the top post at the fire department following the retirement last month of Don Adams.
He was the only person who had applied to fill the position until or if the board decides to look for someone outside of the department to fill the position. The vote was taken at the fire board's meeting on Tuesday evening last week and Wayne expects to take over the job this week after "wrapping up some jobs" he had as a battalion chief of operations.
With the responsibilities of chief, which are vast, Wayne asked for what the former chief was making and the board agreed to pay him a little more than $133,000 a year, a 10 percent raise over what he was making.
John R. Wayne
The meeting last week was also the first with a new fire board following the Nov. 6 election. Five seats were open. Incumbent Linda Carter did not have to seek reelection. Of the remaining four on the board, two of the winners were incumbents, Larry Becker and David Adams. The two new members of the board are Cathy Kruse and Jackie Davies. The four were sworn in by the fire district's attorney, Richard Pringle.
One of the orders of business after being sworn in was the reorganization of the board. Members nominated their fellow commissioners to three top positions which included, chairman, Larry Becker; vice chairman, Cathy Kruse, and secretary/treasurer, David Adams. Former chairman of the board, Jeff Berndt, did not seek reelection.
Then the board decided with an unanimous vote to change the time of board meetings to 6 p.m. The previous board had changed the time a few months ago backwards to 4 p.m.
One of the reasons for the change is that Cathy Kruse is a school teacher at Lehigh Acres Elementary School, and she would not be available always to meet at 4 p.m. The later time change also makes it more possible for members of the community to attend the open public meetings which are held off of Sunshine Blvd. at 16th St. The board voted to keep the last Tuesday of the month as its regular meeting time, except for this month when the board would meet Dec. 18, a week before Christmas.
Interim Chief John Wayne comes with impressive credentials. He had presented a resume to the board members and Kruse and Davies called it "stellar."
Wayne has worked for the Lehigh Fire District for 20 years and has 22 years of increasing responsibilities in the Fire Service EMS field. He has held the rank of battalion chief since 2005 and worked closely with the former chief. He holds a master degree in administration, a bachelor's degree in public administration, an associate's degree in Emergency Medical Services Technology and Fire Science Technology and has completed more than 200 hours of additional course work at the Florida State Fire College and other training facilities throughout the state.
Since the retirement of the previous chief, Wayne and Assistant Chief Kenneth Bennett, whose duties also included being the department's fire marshal, have operated the department jointly. Wayne was handling operations while Bennett was handling the administrative duties of the fire district. At the time that the two were asked to work together, Bennett said he had no interest in becoming the department's chief.
Wayne is well known throughout the department and well respected. If the board decides to advertise the position, Wayne said he would seek the job as chief of the department. The board could decide to retain Wayne. It will more likely decide whether or not to advertise the position nationally or locally in December or January.
Meanwhile, the commissioners were told in a regular report that the EMS and ambulance crews take over half the patients to hospitals out of Lehigh, which puts a strain on the time it takes to go to Fort Myers and back. Nearly 700 Lehigh residents over the past year have chosen to be taken to a hospital out of Lehigh.
Also, State Rep. Matthew Caldwell will attend the Dec. 18 meeting to listen to the board's interests in legislation to take before the Florida General Assembly. The previous board had discussed the possibility of asking Lehigh residents for assessments to help finance the department, which is facing serious financial issues, due to the lack of taxable income due to the Great Recession when homes in Lehigh lost their value and as a result homeowners paid less in taxes.
Board attorney Richard Pringle also said Caldwell may have some ideas and is willing to listen to any other wishes the department may have, such as any boundary changes of the district. The delegation meeting of all area lawmakers is on Jan. 29 and Pringle said now is the time to talk to Caldwell collectively as a board.