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Barry, Bennett win Lehigh Acres Fire District seats

By MELISSA BILL - | Nov 11, 2020


The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District will see one new face and one two ones returning to its elective board.

The General Election wrapped up on Nov. 3 and voters elected Melissa Higens Barry to Seat 1 and incumbent Robert Bennett to Seat 3. Commissioner Debbie Cunningham was re-elected unopposed.

Barry took 53.49 percent of the votes over incumbent Cathy Kruse, who took 46.51 percent.

Kruse had served as a Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District Commissioner for the past eight years, the last three as Chairwoman.

Barry, who will now assume Seat 1, is a Lehigh Acres resident and the activity director at Keystone Place at Four Mile Cove. She was formerly the activity director at Lehigh Acres Senior Center.

Barry said she’s attended the fire district’s board meetings since 2018, and decided to run for a seat to help make a difference. She credits family, friends and the community for supporting her decision.

“It’s extremely humbling, because when you put your name in, you never know how things are going to go. To see all the support from friends and the community. I will do my best for the citizens, because that’s who I work for,” Barry said.

Since moving to Lehigh, Barry said she has strived to stay active within the community.

“My philosophy is that if you live in a community, you help in that community. I believe in doing my best for my community, because that’s what you should do for your community. When I first moved to Lehigh I tried to find ways to be involved which led me to serve on the board at Lehigh Community Services. That’s been an awesome experience and I’ve worked with some great people there,” Barry said.

Barry will be sworn in on Nov. 24.

According to Katie Heck, Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District spokesperson, Barry will go through the district’s training leading up to Nov. 24.

“We provide a basic HR orientation, so she is familiar with the organization and our policies. She is also required to attend ethics training, which is an annual requirement for all of the commissioners,” Heck said.

Barry also plans to see first-hand what the fire fighters experience on a daily basis.

“I definitely want to do a ride-along and get out there and see what the firefighters need and what types of things might be needed in the community,” Barry said. “Lehigh Fire District is very unique in that they have the ambulance transport service. Plus we are the size of Cape Coral, which makes it essential that we get station 106 up as soon as possible.”

Barry’s other goals remain to effectively budget district funds, and to have a 1-, 5- and 10-year plan in place, updating those plan when needed.

Bennett held his seat after taking 45.75 percent of the votes; wchallenger Charles Edwards took 36.07 percent and Ron Rankin took 18.18 percent.

Bennett, who was re-elected for his second term, voiced his commitment to continue to work with the district management and commissioners to improve fire and rescue services to the citizens of Lehigh Acres. Top issues include: Updating stations damaged in hurricane Irma; updating of apparatus and renewal of an aging fleet; staying within district’s budget and working to build a sixth fire station in the North Sunshine area.

Each candidate was elected by qualified voters who reside within LAFCRD’s district as determined by popular vote. The winners candidates who will serve a 4-year term on the board.

LAFCRD’s board is made up of five commissioners. This year, seats 1, 3 and 4 were up for reelection, with seat 4 unopposed, leaving Cunningham to serve another 4-year term.

The district was established in 1963 with volunteers and a single fire engine stationed under a canopy on Homestead Road. In 1981, the district added paramedic services and as a result, the name was changed to Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District, which is one of only two ALS transport services in Lee County. Presently the LAFCRD provides firefighting and ALS services in an area of 142 square miles with a population of 100,000+ citizens.

Decisions are made by its five-member Board of Commissioners and its administration who handle the day-to-day activities and operations. LAFCRD’s 2020-2021 total fiscal budget is $ 46.1 million.

LAFCRD will hold its next meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 5 p.m., (unless otherwise specified) at Station 104, 3102 16th St SW, Lehigh Acres, FL 33976

For more information visit https://www.lehighfd.com/