No college degree required for next Fla. fire chief

An absence of credentials necessary to apply for the open position has been questioned by city officials.

Hernando Today

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — Wanted: someone to take the reins of Hernando County Fire Rescue and supervise the animal control department.

No college degree or emergency medical technician license required.

An absence of credentials necessary to apply for the open position of Hernando County Director of Public Safety has been questioned by some county commissioners.

Given the importance of the job, which oversees 240 employees, including emergency medical technicians, at 14 fire stations, plus the medical examiner and animal services director, it makes little sense not to require lofty standards, they said.

Just 15 months ago, when commissioners debated qualifications for a leader of the consolidated Hernando/Spring Hill fire departments, they insisted that candidate have a college degree.

They eventually settled on Fire Chief Mike Rampino, who agreed to work towards his degree and was before resigning last week.

However, in the posting for Rampino’s replacement, the education qualifications state a high school diploma is acceptable if the person has a minimum of 19 years experience working within a fire department and a minimum of nine of those years as district chief or higher. The applicant must also have a minimum of nine years management experience in supervising personnel.

If the person has a college degree, the minimum requirement for on-the-job experience is less.

County Commissioner Dave Russell said he was not aware of the educational requirements and planned to investigate.

“I’d certainly like to see the justification,” he said.

The application also requires the person to live within 30 miles of the Hernando County Fire Rescue Headquarters in Brooksville, which means the chief does not necessarily have to live in Hernando County.

The salary range for the position is $72,488 to $116,858 annually.

County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said the high school requirement surprised him and he questioned the county administrator about it. Dukes said he was told that section was put in at the recommendation of Human Resources Director Cheryl Marsden.

Dukes said he would have preferred that the applicant have a college degree for such a position. Marsden said the job description was written by herself, County Administrator Len Sossamon and Assistant County Administrator Brian Malmberg. She said she modeled it after standard language used in past job descriptions.

County Commissioner Diane Rowden said she doesn’t understand why the board has apparently changed its mind about requiring its managers and directors to obtain college degrees. About two years ago, commissioners made a push for their top-level personnel to get educational degrees.

For example, then-Business Development Director Mike McHugh, who only had a high school degree, had to take classes at St. Leo College to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Environmental Services Manager Susan Goebel-Canning also has since obtained her degree, Rowden said.

The application also states that a Florida State Emergency Medical Technician license is preferred, but not required.

“Why would you have a fire chief without a license overseeing those with licenses, including the medical director,” Rowden said.

Rowden said she wants to see the advertisement stopped and a plan she has for streamlining the leadership of the department given a chance.

Under her plan, the county would promote either interim Fire Chief Mike Nickerson or Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Carroll into the top spot.

There would be no need to hire a third chief at this time, she said.

But Rowden said she is being stymied by Dukes in getting that plan on the agenda.

Dukes said the process to pick a public service director is in place and it would be inappropriate to deviate from that process before the March 25 deadline for applications.

County Commissioner Jim Adkins said he prefers a candidate have a college degree. The only way someone with a high school diploma would work out is if he or she had a “tremendous amount of on-the-job experience,” which he doubts anyone would possess.

Adkins said he is not against hearing Rowden’s plan but prefers to wait until the March 25 advertisement deadline is up. Adkins said he wants the best person for the job, whether that is promoting from within or going outside the area.

Adkins said he still prefers upper-level managers have degrees but recognizes there are exceptions.

“Sometimes the paper doesn’t make the person,” Adkins said.

Commissioner Nick Nicholson could not be reached for comment but said in December 2012 that any candidate for the position should at least have a bachelor’s degree.

“That is an absolute must,” he said.

So far, the county’s Human resources Department has received 15 applicants, four of them currently employed in fire services either by the city of Brooksville or Hernando County.

The local candidates are:

  • Kevin Carroll, assistant county fire chief since October 2011. He also served as assistant chief from 1994-2011 with the former Spring Hill Fire Rescue District. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration.
  • Frank DeFrancesco, a station captain with Hernando County since May 2013. He was the former assistant chief with the department from 2006-13. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in business administration, he went on to receive a master’s degree in the same field.
  • Stanley Mettinger Jr. has been the district chief for the city of Brooksville Fire Department since December 2002. He has an associate’s degree in fire science.
  • Timothy Mossgrove, a fire chief with the city of Brooksville since 1986. He has a bachelor’s degree.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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