St. George Island Fire Chief Jay Abbott, regarded among the county’s most respected and longest serving firefighters, has resigned his position atop the department.
Abbott gave verbal notice he was stepping down to the volunteer fire department’s board of directors on July 23, and two days later put it in writing. He has been succeeded as acting chief by Deputy Chief Kevin Delahanty.
Bud Hayes, board president, said the annual meeting of the fire department membership, usually held in November, has been expedited, and is tentatively set for Aug. 18.
All residents of the island are invited to take part, and are free to nominate individuals to lead the department, but voting is reserved for the firefighters and first responders, of which there are about two dozen.
Abbott, 68, has been a member of the firefighting unit for the past 32 years, and was instrumental a year after he joined in 1986 in creating the first responder unit. He has served as chief for the past 27 years, during which time the main firehouse at 324 East Pine Avenue was named in his honor about a decade ago.
At the time of his resignation, Abbott was being paid $1,200 a week for administrative services, such as bookkeeping and bill paying, a compensation amount which had gradually grown over the past 10 to 15 years.
Those administrative duties are now being handled by Roberson and Associates, as well as by volunteer firefighter Kelly Rowland, also on a paid basis.
Sources within the department say Abbott’s compensation had been a contentious issue with the board, with a series of attempts made to lessen his pay in conjunction with some administrative duties being farmed out to Roberson and Rowland.
Ultimately, Abbott was provided a severance package, the details of which have not been disclosed.
In addition to Hayes, board members include Vice President Bob Landiss, Secretary Cindy Whiteman, Treasurer Debbie Flowers, Skip Kemp, Ben Mathewson, John Hockman, Bob Shiver and Kevin Delahanty, who is an ex-officio member. While he served as chief, Abbott was a voting member of the board.
“Jay did an excellent, excellent job for the 27 years he was chief, not just for St. George Island, but for the community at large,” said Hayes. “He did a lot of things for the whole community. He’s going to be missed very much.”
The roster of the island’s volunteer firefighters, as listed on the department’s website, includes Dave Armentrout, Mason Bean, Dan Fortunas, Todd Griffith, Kevin Haeusser, Bert Hicks, Wesley McCall, Larry Poston, W.K. Sanders, Brian Smith, Nikol Tschaepe, Robin Wilcox, Jeremy Willoughby, Hayes, Mathewson and Rowland.
Volunteer first responders include Kimberly Crossen, Alma Johnson, Sandy Mitchem, Rex Whiteman, Fortunas, Delahanty, Hayes, Hockman, Mathewson, Rowland, Tschaepe and Wilcox.
Fred Stanley and Hockman serve as drivers. Water rescuers include Chip Sanders, Cory Lee, Jerry Lowe, Ben Law and Eli Sheats.
One challenge for the department, as well as the several other volunteer fire departments around the county, is that the state has instituted more stringent requirements Firefighter 1 certification, which enables an individual to enter the so-called “hot zone.”
A fire district’s ISO rating, which has a bearing on insurance rates, is also dependent on having firefighters who are duly certified through having taken the required course and passed the examination upon its completion.
Just three of the St. George Island firefighters currently meet that certification standard, Hayes said, with another four now enrolled in a course being offered at the Eastpoint Firehouse by the state fire marshal’s office and Gulf Coast State College.
That course also includes firefighters from Apalachicola and Eastpoint and is expected to run through next month.