St James Lanark village FD volunteer leader claims competence despite residents’ concerns

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – The St. James Lanark Village Volunteer Fire Department has been working to escape the shadows of the past.

As part of the review of Part I of this WCTV Special Report, the department was the victim of allegations of improper spending of public funds by a former fire chief.

The second part focuses on residents’ concerns about the current state of the small department and reassurance from the current fire chief and county officials that the agency can operate.

Lanark Village’s connection to World War II is a major draw to its residents, many of whom retire along the Forgotten Coast.

“Everyone knows everyone, everyone is trying to help everyone. It’s just a great place to live, ”said Forest Pressnell, a resident of the village.

But lately the small town has been divided over how its volunteer fire department works.

“Unfortunately I have a lot of questions, I just don’t have the answers,” Pressnell said.

Debi Jordan lives one block from the department. “I certainly don’t have any confidence in anything,” she said.

Questions have been circulating in the community as to whether current fire chief David Curry has a valid driver’s license.

WCTV contacted him for an interview. He agreed to share his side of the story, arguing that these claims were only half true.

“I got what I call a work permit,” he said.

Curry said his license was suspended for an unrelated driving offense, but he currently has documents allowing him to drive to work. Curry also claimed to have an EVOC certificate, a common training course required for paramedics and other first responders to operate emergency vehicles.

WCTV obtained Curry’s driving record in Florida, which showed a currently suspended license and canceled ID.

In several follow-up conversations, Curry was asked to provide proof that he had a work permit or EVOC. He did not do it.

Another allegation: Curry lived inside the fire hall in 2019, only to be kicked out by the county.

A search of court records unearthed a deportation summons that corroborates the claim.

Asked about the incident, Curry said it was a disgruntled neighbor creating unnecessary trouble.

“A lady, I think she passed by and thought I was living there,” he said. “We weren’t what you would call living there – we had someone there.”

Curry said he now lives in a house nearby.

These concerns have reached Franklin County Commissioner Bert Boldt. Its district two includes the village of Lanark.

In early August, at a meeting of the Franklin County Commission, he sounded the alarm.

“We have a crisis over there in Lanark Village,” he said at the meeting.

The commission launched the idea of ​​dissolving the department and asking nearby fire departments to cover additional territory. No decision was made that evening.

But several weeks later, Boldt addressed another committee meeting with a different perspective. He said he attended a VFD meeting and was impressed with Curry and his department.

“I would like him to come and take care of me,” Boldt said in an interview with WCTV.

“He just thinks of all he can to help people help themselves … I think sometimes people just make wrong judgments,” he said.

George Briesacker has just retired after serving as treasurer, secretary and de facto chairman of the fire department board. He also quickly supported Curry.

“If you have a fire you want David to be there,” he said.

The biggest concern right now, according to Briesacker and Boldt, is the lack of volunteer firefighters.

“They’re just jumping all over the Lanark Fire Department. Well ok, if we had more bodies we would do more, ”said Briesacker.

Chuck Flynn works with the Volunteer Fire Services of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

“It’s a concern across the country and has been for a number of years,” said Flynn.

He said recruiting takes time, is best done by word of mouth, and requires strong community support.

“Public trust is the most important thing you have,” he said.

Curry said he recently recruited at least 15 new volunteers. And despite what some in Lanark may say, he does promise competence.

“The Lanark Fire Department is pretty good … we can be there, we can knock [ a fire] down.”

Commissioner Boldt said the county is working with the state fire marshal‘s office to bring in a volunteer expert later this year, to work with all of the county’s volunteer services.

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