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South Walton Fire District is a Unique Organization in Walton County

October 2, 2014 by Tom McGee

Our South Walton Fire District (SWFD) is a unique organization, well run by dedicated, professional folks. We who live and visit here should feel fortunate to have their life-saving services. 

Since being elected to the South Walton Fire District board in April, I have had the good fortune to see the inner workings and meet many of the great people who run the organization. 

I imagine that most of our residents in South Walton County do not know that more than two-thirds of the calls we get at SWFD are medical in nature. For example, this May we responded to 436 incidents. Of that number, 285 were medical in nature. We estimate that most of the medical calls are to assist our many visitors. 

Most SoWal residents may be surprised to learn that all of our 87 fire fighters are EMT certified and far better than 50% are Paramedic certified. This makes me feel secure. These well-trained folks saved my bacon last January when I had to be transported to the hospital on an emergency basis. 

Our 911 system is state-of-the-art. We operate it in conjunction with The Walton County Sheriff’s Office. When a 911 call comes into the central office in Defuniak Springs, within seconds it is transferred to our dispatchers at our station 3, located at 911 County Hwy. 393, if the emergency is in South Walton. These well-trained dispatchers obtain necessary information from the caller and relay it to the crew that is already on its way to attend to our needs. This gives the firefighters vital information about the situation they are about to encounter and lets them prepare for their jobs. They already knew what my needs were when they arrived to assist me. This saved valuable time. 

Our administrative staff is lean, but efficient. I was amazed to learn that only one person, Carol Martin, does all our payrolls and expenditures and in conjunction with a small volunteer board oversees our pension fund - which is very healthy. 

Chief Rick Talbert runs the SWFD assisted by Chief Ryan Crawford, who handles training matters, and Chief Marc Anderson, who sees to our five fire stations and the equipment necessary to protect our community. Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez provides community education and inspections to insure our safety. Chief Talbert welcomes the opportunity to appear before local groups to more fully explain his business.

Nine years ago, in conjunction with the Walton County Tourist Development Council, SWFD was awarded the very active Beach Safety Program to protect us locals and the more than 2.6 million visitors we expect this year. Gary Wise, an expert on these issues, hails from Australia and heads up this important business that gets bigger each year. 

By this time last year Gary’s well-trained life guards made 38,535 contacts on our beaches. By the end of May this year, Gary’s folks had already made 58,727. Of our contacts this year, 44,401 were visitors. SWFD’s primary mission is to prevent folks from getting into trouble in the waters by maintaining our flag system and personally warning swimmers when our rip currents are dangerous. But we assist when we must. 

We presently cooperate with several beach communities to provide these lifeguard services and are seeking the cooperation of the local communities along the beach. It only makes sense for our whole community to take on this necessary responsibility being that we have 26 miles of beach to protect. 

I am told by our firefighters on duty that the Beach Safety Program has greatly reduced their need to perform water rescues. 

My father was a fireman all his life. When I was born, we lived over a fire station. During WWII, when I was eight years old I had the good luck to visit with my Dad on weekends and go on calls with him when he was the Assistant Fire Chief at Camp Livingston, Louisiana where soldiers trained for D-Day.

I am proud to be a part of our fine South Walton Fire District. I hope our residents appreciate how lucky we are to have such an outstanding department.
 

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Tom McGee is currently a member of the SWFD Board of Fire Commissioners (Seat #2) and is running for election for this seat in the upcoming Nov. 4 election (Tom was recently appointed to fill the seat after incumbent moved from the district).

Tom is a a resident of South Walton with wife Karen for 17 years. Tom is from Louisiana and offers impressive experiences and qualifications from his previous law work as well as his participation in Walton County groups and committees over the years. Readers will remember Tom's column VOIR DIRE: To Speak the Truth about courtroom sagas and interesting yarns (Walton Sun).

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Tom McGee

Judge Tom was born in North Louisiana but his family moved to New Orleans, The City That Care Forgot, when he was nine years old. He likes to say he was born a Redneck, but raised a Creole. He has spent half his life in courtrooms as a trial lawyer, prosecutor and judge.

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