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South Walton Fire District All You Can Eat Pancakes & Prevention

October 8, 2018 by Manny Chavez

The South Walton Fire District (SWFD) has been “serving from the bay to the beach” for 35 years now and celebrated with their 6th annual Fire Prevention “All You Can Eat” Pancake breakfast on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

Held at the SWFD WaterColor Fire Station, several hundred citizens showed up to partake in the pancake-eating and to rub elbows with their firefighters who genuinely enjoyed showing off their fire trucks and fire station. This years Celebrity Chef Max Hornsby of the Fireside Café was at the griddle helping the firefighters with the pancake flipping.

Kids finished off their “cakes” as quickly as possible to partake in the various events. Firefighters showed off their spotless fire trucks and kids were able to “put out” a simulated fire and “rescue” a bear as they were timed for their event and given an official “Junior Firefighter Challenge Certificate” to take home with them.  Using another simulated device, they were showed how to properly use a fire extinguisher. Smokey the Bear was even on hand to high-five the kids near the sidewalk art painting going on outside the station.

Fire Chief Richard Talbert, Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez, Beach Safety Director David Vaughan, and several Board of Fire Commissioner members attended the breakfast, a great time to reminisce and think about the future.

The “$5 All-You-Can-Eat” Pancake Breakfast is always scheduled to lead into Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 7-13, 2018) where the firemen go out to local schools and businesses to visit with the kids and conduct fire prevention programs. The monies garnered from the breakfast is used to put back into the community in the form of smoke alarms, educational materials, etc.

Since 1985, the SWFD has grown from a hand-full of firefighters to 116 full-time employees, 9 part-time employees and 67 seasonal employees that make up their beach safety program.

The District maintains five fire stations within an 84-square mile area encompassing all properties from the Okaloosa County line eastward to the Bay County line and south of the Choctawhatchee Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.

“We operate a pretty unique fire district,” says Sammy. “Not only because of our proximity to water (water rescues), but we are responsible for the beach, individual homes, high-rises in Miramar Beach, restaurants and businesses, and the very rural areas which are surrounded by thousands of acres of state forest. Since we are the 911 responders when forest fires break out, we are the first to arrive at the fire and we do the best that we can to contain it until our Florida Forest Service counterpart arrives.”

In a nutshell, the SWFD is responsible for providing fire protection, emergency medical services transport, beach lifeguards, hazardous material mitigation, 911 emergency communications, public education and fire prevention activities for the South Walton area.

SWFD’s lifeguards (they are seasonal contract employees) are on SoWal beaches from March 1 through Sept. 30 at 14 towers, 10 of which are funded by the Walton County TDC, two are funded by the Sandestin Owners Association, and two are funded by the Rosemary Beach Owners Association. The March-September “season” is already being extended by Sandestin and Rosemary Beach (through the month of October), with other extensions probable for next year.

The SWFD Beach Safety Division is responsible for changing out the Florida Beach Flags in Walton County (you’ve seen the colorful warning flags flying at the various Walton County beach access points). The flags warn against hazardous conditions that may exist (surf conditions, marine pests in gulf, etc.) and are sometimes changed several times a day depending on surf conditions. This season (2018), there were 97 EMS-supported Water Rescues and 697 Public Assists (those rescues that weren’t serious enough to call for EMS support. Visit www.swfd.org to check on current conditions.

Under the supervision of David Vaughan (head of the Beach Safety Division), SoWal kids between the ages of 9-15 have been able to sign up and participate in SWFD’s Junior Lifeguard Program. The yearly program, began in 2008, has grown from 65 to 130 students and is held in June and July with a maximum of around 60 participants allowed each month. Prior to participating in the program, kids (boys and girls) must first qualify with a freestyle swimming and treading water test. Although some of the Junior Lifeguard program graduates have gone on to become official SWFD Lifeguards, the program is really geared towards creating a safer beach environment for the SoWal community through education. Educational activities include understanding rip currents and beach safety warning flags, how to be a lifesaver, first aid, and marine life and environmental stewardship. All activities take place at Ed Walline Park (at the intersection of Scenic Hwy. 30A and Hwy. 331 South). 

Future building plans for the SWFD include the building of a training tower, fleet maintenance facility, and additional office space…all to be located immediately behind the existing building at 911 N. County Hwy. 393.
Sammy is constantly amazed and humbled by the local community’s feedback.

“Day to day our guys are reminded of how much our local community stands behind them. Countless times they have been at lunch and someone will pickup their tab and thank them for their service.  People go out of their way to thank us and we’re lucky to live and work in this community. I don’t know that I would want to work anywhere else!”

The SWFD also provides mutual aid services to other agencies.

“We sent some personnel to help with Hurricane Florence as part of the State of Florida Ambulance Strike Team. The first group left on Sept. 11 and the second group left on Sept. 18.”

Upcoming SWFD-sponsored local events include a Veterans Day 5K run to be held Nov. 10 and the chilly-but-fun Polar Plunge scheduled for Jan. 1 at Ed Walling Park.For further information concerning the SWFD, please call (850) 267-1298; Web: www.swfd.org; or visit on Facebook. Address: 911 N. County Hwy. 393.

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Manny Chavez's picture

Manny has been a working photojournalist his entire career and is now writing stories/taking pix for SoWal.com. He and his wife Kris live in Seagrove and have “seen a lot come and go.” Lots of stories have been told, with lots more to come!

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