LARGO - In preparation for the summer season, Largo firefighters have been practicing how to save children from drowning in a pool.
The new, live pediatric training is a step beyond required training for paramedics and emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, in the department. And the program wasn’t an idea the chiefs in the fire department developed, explained Assistant Fire Chief Michael Handoga.
“This was the firefighters themselves saying, ‘It’s pool season. We want to practice our skills and make sure our proficiency is at the highest levels,’” he said. “They came up with the curriculum all on their own. How do you not support that?”
On Mondays and Fridays over the last three weeks, groups of four to six firefighters headed to Highland Family Aquatic Center to rescue a “child” - actually a child-size mannequin - from the pool. One firefighter jumped in to swim the child to safety, and on dry ground, the group worked to assess and get the child breathing again.
“We wanted to make this as real as possible,” said firefighter and paramedic Stephen Bailey, who developed the training.
The training was designed to be a hands-on reminder so paramedics and EMTs feel more prepared to save a drowning child - not a common emergency scenario.
MADEIRA BEACH - Congressman David Jolly took a walking tour of the John’s Pass waterfront April 8 to discuss the impact illegal fishing in the Gulf of Mexico has had on the local fishing industry.
Jolly, R-Indian Shores, recently became one of 20 co-sponsors on a bi-partisan bill, HR 774, which was introduced in the National Resources Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives that would implement the Port State Measures Agreement, also known as the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act. The U.S. Senate approved the bill unanimously last year.
The measure strengthens port inspections of foreign fishing boats and increases enforcement to stop illegal fishing.
In recent years, Mexican fishermen have illegally harvested an estimated 1 million pounds of red snapper per year in U.S. waters, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The illegal poaching has also had an impact on grouper and shark populations.
“Illegal poaching is one of those areas everybody agrees something needs to be done,” Jolly said. “What happens? It hurts our commercial and recreation fishing industries. Illegal poaching is a crime and we need to do more for government to fight it.”
DUNEDIN - “Where to Retire” magazine has selected Dunedin as a top retirement destination. The city is profiled in the May/June issue, available April 14.
“Where to Retire” Editor Annette Fuller said in a press release that Dunedin possesses qualities important to today’s retirees.
“Tucked alongside the Gulf of Mexico in the Tampa Bay region, Dunedin offers retirees access to some of Florida’s most pristine barrier island beaches. Time is well-spent outdoors, walking along the beach, cycling the trail that cuts through downtown, relaxing on a sailboat or collecting seashells. Even dogs are welcome at many outdoor dining spots. The town’s rich Scottish history is celebrated at annual festivals, and the local high school has a bagpipe band,” Fuller said.
Each year, 700,000 Americans relocate to new towns to retire. Generally, relocating retirees are healthier, better educated and more affluent than those who choose not to relocate. They bring significant economic benefits to their new states and hometowns. Nationally, two-dozen states and hundreds of towns seek to attract retirees as a source of economic development, the release said.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners gave the go ahead, 6-0, April 7, to seek the court’s help in resolving a tax issue with the Pasco County Property Appraiser.
Commissioner Pat Gerard was absent.
County Attorney Jim Bennett recommended that commissioners authorize his office to initiate litigation to seek a declaratory judgement and injunctive relief against Mike Wells, Pasco County Property Appraiser, Mike Fasano, Pasco County Tax Collector, and Marshal Stranburg, executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue.
The question is should Pinellas County have to pay ad valorem taxes on its land located in Pasco County.
Pinellas bought the 8,200-acre Cross Bar Ranch in 1976 and the adjoining 4,200-acre Al Bar Ranch in 1990. All 12,400 acres are located in central Pasco County.
Pinellas purchased Crossbar to help supply its water needs. Seventeen wellhead sites located on 6.41 acres began producing drinking water in 1980. The county sold the wells and water rights on Crossbar in the mid-1990s as part of a deal that created Tampa Bay Water.
Pasco County made an offer to purchase the land in 2014, which Pinellas declined.
CLEARWATER - Results of Pinellas County’s annual study of citizen values shows signs of improvement.
Sarah Lindemuth, senior research director with HCP & Associates, presented results from the phone survey to commissioners during their March 24 meeting. The survey took place Jan. 26-Feb. 11. Calls were made to 200 citizens in four demographic areas - north, mid, south and the beaches.
The goal of the phone study, as well as a second study conducted online, is to “measure citizen expectations and perceptions regarding key drivers for citizen qualify to life, to determine strengths and opportunity of improvement,” according to the written report.
County Administrator Mark Woodard pointed out that the study results help staff as it develops the annual budget and to evaluate the effectiveness of county services.
One new metric included in the 2015 survey was whether residents were employed within their skillset. Lindemuth said 97.9 percent of those called indicated they were employed within their skillset. Of those respondents, 60 percent indicated they had high-wage jobs.
Commissioner Pat Gerard questioned the demographics report that showed 74.4 percent of the county made more than $50,000 a year. Latest census figures showed only 46.4 percent brought home more than $50,000 a year. Gerard pointed out that it might be harder to get low-income residents or transients on the phone.
BELLEAIR - Town fathers like to say that Belleair is a family-oriented community that it is a safe place to live with amenities for young and old alike.
The poster boy for their claims could well be retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joe Oder who moved to the community a year ago and now says he and his wife Pat would not want to be anywhere else.
“We absolutely love it. It is the best thing we’ve ever done,” he said. “You have the small community life but are close to the big city. You have accessibility to the big life while living the small life.”
As a career military man Oder, 70, and his family was never in the same spot for long. When he retired 18 years ago he and Pat moved to Destin. It was the first time in their 46 years of marriage that they set down roots.
It was a happy time for them until their daughter, Josette Oder Moynihan, pushed those grandparent buttons and got them to move.
“She had moved to Belleair with her family, including two of our grandchildren and wanted us to move closer,” said Oder. “She said growing up as a military child she never had grandparents in her life and she didn’t want that to happen to her children.”
MADEIRA BEACH - City officials and staff gathered March 30 on the walkway outside the new city hall, part of the City Centre municipal complex.
They watched and several participated in the demolition of the city hall building that had served the city for almost 50 years. The structure had been in use since April 1965.
Behind the group was the symbol of a new Madeira Beach, the shining cornerstone of the new municipal center. Its gleaming façade, reflected in the bay waters which it fronts, stood in contrast to the rubble of what had once been a state-of-the-art facility for its own era.
City staff members are already at work in the new building, with offices overlooking the water and park setting of the new complex. In the center are the new commission chambers and meeting hall, fronted by a special curved glass, which had arrived just a few days before from Michigan. The new city hall’s completion had been delayed because the glass was backordered, and then sent to Wisconsin by mistake.
The old city hall had reached the end of its useful life, being plagued in recent years by mold and other contaminants, a leaky roof, faulty air conditioning and other issues.
ST. PETE BEACH - Winston Churchill once said success is not final and failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.
That phrase sums up the actions of retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Major Gary Littrell of St. Pete Beach who for four days in early April 1970 took command of a South Vietnamese Ranger battalion under siege by more than 5,000 North Vietnamese troops. Out of an original group of 477, Littrell was among 41 walking and wounded to safely leave the hill they gallantly defended.
His actions and decisions led him to receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1973.
He is the only Medal of Honor recipient in the area, one of three in Florida and one of 79 currently alive in the U.S.
This weekend Littrell will be honored again when the Bayway Bridge is rededicated in his name by city officials from St. Pete Beach.
“I don’t look at it as honoring me,” said Littrell, 70, who spent 22 years in the Army, mostly as an Army Ranger. “I look at it as honoring the men and women in uniform, present and past. It just shows the patriotism the citizens of Florida have toward our men in uniform.”
LARGO - Veteran Scott Owens of Largo suffered a traumatic brain injury during a bombing in Iraq in 2006.
He came home to battle memory issues and post-traumatic stress disorder, sinking into depression as he searched and failed to find a job as a civilian. His wife, Shannon, worried as her husband pulled further and further away from her, to the point of becoming suicidal.
Michael Dunlap of Dunedin joined the Marine Corps fresh out of high school and served six years until he was discharged in 1982. He also struggled to fit into civilian life, roaming the country and once even living out of his car.
All three share their trials and, ultimately, their stories of triumph over difficult circumstances in the production Telling: Tampa Bay, which comes to the Largo Cultural Center Wednesday, April 1, 6:30 p.m. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.
The show, part of the national Telling Project, features the stories of six local veterans, along with Shannon Owens, to help the community understand the unique challenges veterans and their families face.
Based on information available through March 15, two professors at Colorado State University predict that the Atlantic basin hurricane season will be one of the least active seasons since the middle of the 20th century.
Renowned hurricane forecasters William M. Gray and Philip J. Klotzbach released their extended-range early April statistical predictions April 9.
One reason given for the below-average forecast is that the forecasters believe that an El Nino of at least moderate strength will form this summer and fall. Gray and Klotzbach also said that the tropical and subtropical Atlantic is “quite cool at present.”
TAMPA - U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore sentenced a Tarpon Springs man to 40 years in federal prison for the production, receipt, and distribution of child pornography, according to an April 17 media release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida.
Melvin Barber Bridgers, III, 34, formerly of Greenville, North Carolina, also was ordered to forfeit cellular telephones and computers that he had used to commit the offenses. Bridgers pleaded guilty on Dec. 11, 2014.
CLEARWATER - Way back in 1954, Clearwater city officials and business owners concocted a cunning scheme to postpone the inevitable.
Organizers of the original Fun ’n Sun celebration sought to keep snowbirds from loading up their cars and heading back north at the end of the tourist season. Giving those seasonal visitors a reason to stick around for a few more weeks meant coming up with not just a one-day gala but a series of events.
Over time, that philosophy has evolved into one of the Tampa Bay area’s most eclectic extended extravaganzas.
PALM HARBOR - Mastering the art of motherhood, work and community is no small feat but that’s exactly what one Palm Harbor woman has successfully tackled.
As an active and integral member on the board of directors for several major environmental groups in Pinellas County, Barbara Walker completely combines her three passions - environmentalism, social leadership and the simple joy of bird watching.
It has been said that every woman’s journey is her own and Walker’s first steps to this point began on a very solemn and special day, over a decade ago.
DUNEDIN - City commissioners will be asked next month to raise boat-launching fees to offset the cost of providing additional parking on the east side of Edgewater Drive for users of the Dunedin Marina.
City commissioners voted 5-0 April 9 to lease property owned by the Church of the Good Shepherd on Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays for vehicles with boat trailers. The three-year agreement stems from lack of parking spaces at the marina, which can accommodate 17 trailers. The city’s annual cost to lease the parking lot will be $4,200.
TALLAHASSEE - Keep your hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and mind on driving -- that’s the message the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Florida Department of Transportation want motorists to remember this April during Distracted Driver Awareness Month.
Distracted driving crashes in Florida have increased 25 percent since 2012. Even though teens represent only five percent of licensed drivers, they were responsible for 12 percent of distracted driving crashes. Drivers aged 20-29 were responsible for 31 percent of crashes.
“If you are not 100 percent focused, then you’re not 100 percent driving,” said Col. David Brierton, director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “Troopers around the state will continue to educate motorists on the dangers of distracted driving for the safety of all who share our roadways.”