Under Fire Part Two: St. James Lanark Village Volunteer FD chief claims competency despite some concerns from residents
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The St. James Lanark Village Volunteer Fire Department has worked to escape from under shadows of the past.
As part one of this WCTV special report examined, the department suffered from allegations of misspending public funds from a former fire chief.
Part two focuses on concerns from residents about the current state of the small department, and reassurances from the current fire chief and county officials that the agency can function.
Lanark Village’s ties to World War II serve as a major draw for its residents, many living out their retirement along the Forgotten Coast.
“Everybody knows everybody, everybody tries to help everybody. It’s just a great place to live,” said Forest Pressnell, a village resident.
But lately, the small town has been divided over the operation of its volunteer fire department.
“Unfortunately there are a lot of questions I have, I just don’t have answers,” said Pressnell.
Debi Jordan lives just a block away from the department. “I certainly don’t have any confidence whatsoever,” she said.
Questions have circulated around the community about whether current fire chief David Curry has a valid driver’s license.
WCTV reached out to him for an interview. He agreed to share his side of the story, arguing those claims were only half true.
“I got what I call a work license,” he said.
Curry said his license was suspended for a non-driving offense, but currently has documentation that allows him to drive to and from work. Curry also claimed to have an EVOC certificate, a common training course required for EMTs and other first responders to drive emergency vehicles.
WCTV obtained Curry’s Florida driving record, which showed a currently suspended license and a canceled ID.
In several follow-up conversations, Curry was asked to provide documented proof that he had a work license or EVOC. He has failed to do so.
Another allegation: Curry was living inside the firehouse in 2019, only to be evicted by the county.
A search of court records dug up an eviction summons that corroborates the claim.
When asked about the incident, Curry said it was a disgruntled neighbor stirring up unnecessary trouble.
“One lady, I think she came by there and thought I was living there,” he said. “We weren’t what you’d call living there - we had somebody there.”
Curry said he now lives in a home nearby.
These concerns reached Franklin County Commissioner Bert Boldt. His district two includes Lanark Village.
In an early August Franklin County Commission meeting, he sounded the alarm.
“We’ve got a crisis there in Lanark Village,” he said in the meeting.
The commission floated the idea of dissolving the department and asking nearby fire departments to cover the extra territory. No decision was made that night.
But several weeks later, Boldt addressed another commission meeting with a changed outlook. He said he attended a LVFD meeting and was impressed with Curry and his department.
“I’d want him to come take care of me,” Boldt said in an interview with WCTV.
“He just thinks of everything he can in order to help people help themselves...I think sometimes folks just make some unsound judgments,” he said.
George Briesacker just retired from serving as treasurer, secretary and de-facto chair of the board for the fire department. He was also quick to support Curry.
“If you got a fire, you want David there,” he said.
According to both Briesacker and Boldt, the biggest concern right now is a lack of volunteer firefighters.
“They’re just jumping all over the Lanark Fire Department. Well OK, if we had more bodies we’d do more,” said Briesacker.
Chuck Flynn is a fire chief in Connecticut and works with volunteer fire departments for the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
“It’s a concern across the country, and it has been for a number of years,” Flynn said.
He said recruiting takes time, is best accomplished by word of mouth and requires strong community support.
“The 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 promises competency.
“The Lanark Fire department is pretty good... We can be on scene. 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 every volunteer department in the county.
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