HOLMES BEACH – “It’s really good,” Capt. Tom Sousa said about his approval as West Manatee Fire & Rescue’s chief to replace the retiring Chief Andy Price in April 2015.
Sousa, who has served as the fire district’s training/safety/public information officer, said the district has really grown since the merger of the West Side and Anna Maria fire districts in 2000.
“Andy built the organization to where it is today,” he pointed out. “I came in 2006 when it was still in the developing stage. In the 14 years since the merger, the agency has matured into an effective firefighting and EMS delivery system.”
The rescue side
Sousa said his goals include enhancing the rescue side of the district’s operations.
“We’re focused on saving lives and protecting property,” he explained. “I’d like to look at our cardiac save rate to see if we can improve survival rates. So far this year, there have been 29 sudden cardiac arrests.”
He said he would like to increase the number of AEDs (automatic external defibrillators) in businesses and public places and offer more CPR classes to the public.
He also would like to work more closely with the county's marine rescue on water safety.
“There are a lot of people out here at the beaches, even in the summer,” he noted. “We have been proactive in our effectiveness in response by training a dozen of our firefighters to be rescue swimmers. There are some on each shift, and they carry dive rescue equipment.”
The fire side
On the fire side, Sousa said, “Our fire response is good and well organized. I’d like to look at innovative ways to be more efficient when we get there.”
In addition, he said he’d like to enhance fire prevention education and build and maintain good relations with the three Island cities on construction issues, prevention and hurricane planning.
He said he is not concerned about the possibility that firefighters could unionize. Several months ago, a number of the district’s firefighters applied to join Local 2546, the International Association of Firefighters.
“There’s a scheduled vote to see if they want to be represented by a bargaining agent,” he explained. “Management is not participating the process, and it is yet to be determined whether the battalion chiefs will participate.
“It will just add steps to the management of the organization, but the mission is still the same. Service delivery will be unaffected.”
He said part of the transition process over the next seven months will be replacing his position as training officer, as well as dealing with the retirement of the deputy chief and two administrative assistants next year.
“We need to evaluate the work flow,” he said. “If we can find some efficiencies, we will. I’d like to see what the chief’s job entails, then we can go forward and see what we’re going to do.”
Sousa and his wife Annette, have four daughters, Haley, 24; Natalie, 23; Mariel, 21; and Olivia, 19.