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Lakeland Fire Department News


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Janel's Blog

Bells Will Ring in Lakeland for 3rd Annual Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters

Lakeland – For the third year, the entire country is invited to come together as one community to honor the memory of those firefighters who died in the line of duty and reassure their loved ones that their firefighter will not be forgotten by participating in the Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters remembrance.

The Lakeland Fire Department will join the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), other fire departments, and community groups from coast to coast in this poignant tribute as part of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend. The moment of remembrance will occur on Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 10:00 AM at all Lakeland fire stations and at participating locations throughout the Lakeland area. This day also marks the beginning of Fire Prevention Week.

“It is with great sadness that we ring these bells for fellow firefighters who have fallen in the line of duty. It allows us to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice they have made for their communities. It is my hope and desire to never have to ring a bell again because of a firefighter perishing while serving.” said Lakeland Fire Chief Gary Ballard.

“The ringing of bells has a powerful meaning to firefighters. Not only do bells signal the beginning or end of a call, they also were used to notify department members that one of their own had died while serving the community.” explained Chief Ronald Siarnicki, executive director of the NFFF.

Hundreds of fire departments, places of worship and other groups participated in Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters over the past two years.

For more information about the national remembrance visit .

The Lakeland Fire Department would also like to invite area community group and churches to participate in their own way. Please read more about the invitation from Fire Chief Gary Ballard here

On Wednesday, September 4, 2013 long time veteran of the Lakeland Fire Department (LFD), Wayne Epperson, was promoted to the officer position of Battalion Chief.   

 Bat. Chief Epperson was joined by family, friends, colleagues, and an extended network of City of Lakeland representatives, including Mayor Gow Fields, to celebrate his professional advancement.

Wayne began his career with the LFD in 1985 and served as a firefighter, fire instructor, driver-engineer, and lieutenant, having held the latter position for 17 years. Speakers at the ceremony including Fire Chief Gary Ballard, Assistant Chief Rick Hartzog, Bat. Chief Mike Williams, and Bat. Chief Jeff Wharton all concurred that Bat. Chief Epperson is one of the most honest, dedicated, and deserving individuals they know within the organization. Wayne has been heavily involved with training efforts throughout his career and through his many years of experience and leadership will undoubtedly further elevate the position.

 A big congratulations to Wayne Epperson and sincere thanks to him for the many years of dedicated service he has provided the people of Lakeland. 



The Lakeland Professional Firefighters Union, Local 4173, will be sponsoring a fundraiser to benefit the March of Dimes. 

Scheduled for September 14, 2013 at Peterson Park in Lakeland, the event will feature a competitive cornhole tournament with prizes for the top three finishers.  Lt. Heath Seeber's famous pulled pork platter will also be sold to raise funds. 

The event has been a great success in years past, raising several thousand dollars for the March of Dimes. Come out and join in the fun to help this event continue to be a success.  

For more information click here

Lakeland --- Early Thursday, August 22, 2013, at approximately 7:00 AM, the Lakeland Fire Department (LFD) responded to an accident involving two vehicles on the east bound lanes of I-4 at 3800 I-4, Lakeland, FL, 33809.

Upon arrival, emergency responders found a mini-van and 4-door compact car that had collided. All of the occupants of the mini-van had successfully exited the vehicle prior to the arrival of LFD responders, but the male driver of the compact car was trapped due to heavy front end damage to his vehicle.

LFD personnel immediately initiated medical treatment upon arrival, and with the assistance of Polk County Fire Rescue (PCFR), closed all east bound lanes of I-4 to proceed with extrication of the victim. Tower Truck 15 and Fire Engine 61 arrived on scene to stabilize the vehicle and perform the extrication. Due to the condition of the vehicle, two hydraulic rescue tools (commonly known as the “Jaws of Life”) had to be used to remove the vehicle’s roof and the driver’s side door to successfully free the man. He was then ground transported to an area hospital by PCFR.

The Lakeland Fire Department responded with 5 apparatuses and 11 personnel.

Lakeland's firefighters have a very real passion for what they do. Earlier this summer, Training Chief John Almskog and Lieutenant Matt Brown were able to share some of their enthusiasm for firefighting and emergency medical response with local teen Brodie Bulloch. Brodie, who is interested in joining the fire service, is one of the stars of UPTV's reality show Bulloch Family Ranch. 

Almskog and Brown spent a day with  Bulloch, showing him the ropes and providing some insight as to what it takes both physically and mentally to serve the community of Lakeland on the front lines. 

The experience was featured on the seventh episode of the show which aired August 21, 2013 at 10:00 PM on UPTV.


Lakeland --- Early Friday, August 16, 2013, at approximately 6:05 AM, the Lakeland Fire Department responded to a residential fire on 1122 N. Vermont Ave. The two story structure, known for being frequented by the area’s homeless, was vacant at the time of the fire. There were no injuries. The fire was fully extinguished by 8:00 AM and rendered the structure a total loss.


The fire was reported by a neighbor who called 9-1-1. The fire began on the first floor and involved slightly over 50% of the structure. Investigators found evidence of the fire being intentionally set and the incident remains under investigation.

The Lakeland Fire Department responded with 8 apparatuses and 22 personnel. The fire was contained to the referenced structure with no damage to surrounding structures.

Contact Janel Vasallo at for more information. 


On Monday, August 19th, Tuesday, August 20th, and Wednesday, August 21st, 2013, the Lakeland Fire Department (LFD) will be promoting driving safety by reminding motorist that they should slow down and buckle up in consideration of school being back in session. The LFD will have a fire engine and/or rescue truck positioned at the busiest intersections near thirteen elementary schools in the department’s coverage area. 

Firefighters will be holding signs encouraging safe driving by reminding motorist to drive slowly in school zones and to buckle up. Firefighters will be stationed at high visibility roadways and intersections near the schools.   The Lakeland Fire Department’s goal is to ensure that no child is injured this school year by a negligent driver.  Since the beginning of this safety campaign in 2009, incidents involving motorist striking pedestrians have steadily declined.  

LFD apparatus and firefighters will be targeting the following schools at these intersections:


Lakeland Area Elementary School

Targeted Roadway / Intersection

Campaign Hours During Student Drop Off

Campaign Hours During Student Pick Up

Blake Academy

Hartsell Ave. / Sikes Blvd.

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:15 - 3:15 PM

Carlton Palmore Elementary

Cleveland Heights Blvd. / Westover St.

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:15 - 3:15 PM

Cleveland Court Elementary

Edgewood Dr. /Carolina Ave.

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:15 - 3:15 PM

Dixieland Elementary

Ariana Rd. in front of school

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:00- 3:00 PM

Jesse Keen Elementary

Wabash Ave. in front of school

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:00- 3:00 PM

Lincoln Avenue Academy

Lincoln Ave. / 10th St.

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:00- 3:00 PM

North Lakeland Elementary

Robson St. / Baird Ave.

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:15 - 3:15 PM

Philip O'Brien Elementary

Lime St. / Lake Parker Ave.

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:15 - 3:15 PM

Rochelle School of the Arts

MLK Jr. Ave. / 10th St.

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:00- 3:00 PM

Sleepy Hill Elementary

Griffin Rd. /Kathleen Rd.

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:15 - 3:15 PM

Southwest Elementary

South Florida Ave. / Oak St.

7:00 - 7:45 AM

2:00- 3:00 PM

* McKeel Academy Central

North Florida Ave. / Oak St.

8:00 – 9:00 AM

2:30 – 3:30 PM

* South McKeel Elementary


South Edgewood Dr. in front of school

8:00 – 9:00 AM

2:45 – 3:45 PM


* McKeel and South McKeel will be visited on Thursday, August 15 and Friday, August 16 for their first days of school. 

All units will remain available to respond to emergencies during these times. For more information contact Janel Vasallo at (863)834-8219 or



Lakeland Fire Chief Gary Ballard has given the City of Lakeland one more reason to be proud. On July 24 Chief Ballard was selected as the Vice President for the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association (FFCA). Having served as the West Central Regional Director for the FFCA in years past, Chief Ballard will now be able to share his 36+ years of experience in an expanded capacity with fire service leaders from all over Florida as Second Vice President. 

This professional platform will allow Chief Ballard to showcase the excellent emergency services that the Lakeland Fire Department offers the people of Lakeland, as well as create additional networking opportunities that will add to the quality of the fire department’s services.  

The FFCA is made up of fire and emergency professionals from all ranks representing all regions of Florida.  The association’s mission is to promote and support excellence in fire & emergency services. The association does so by recognizing the fields best and brightest, offering scholarships, fundraising for charity, and providing professional development. With Chief Ballard in this new leadership position, he will undoubtedly continue to expand those efforts. 

Congratulations to Chief Ballard and sincere thanks for increasing the City of Lakeland’s presence throughout the state.


The bond forged between the men and women in fire service is universal, regardless of when or where they’ve served. Proof of that was on a recent visit made by the Lakeland Fire Department’s Assistant Chief Doug Riley, along with Station # 5 ‘s Lt. Jim Hewitt, Engineer-Driver Steve Herndon, and Firefighter Jason Vickers who visited retired Massachusetts Firefighter George Coughlin at Clairbridge Place in Lakeland on August 6, 2013. They reached out to Mr. Coughlin to welcome him to the community and for the opportunity to bond over tales of service as firefighters.   

Mr. Coughlin served as a firefighter for over 25 years and upon retiring in Polk County became very involved with fire service related issues in his community. He led the charge and was instrumental in the building of an additional fire station in nearby Winter Haven, and now as a new resident of Lakeland plans to become equally as involved. Firefighters from Station 5 plan to visit regularly to continue to grow the relationship and learn a lesson or two from this valuable veteran of fire service. 

Regardless of disparity in age or location of service, its examples like these that make it clear that firefighting is not a career choice but rather a lifestyle.

On Wednesday, July 31, 2013 in an exceptionally well-attended ceremony, Jason Merritt was promoted to Lieutenant. Lt. Merritt was joined by family, friends, colleagues, and an extended network of City of Lakeland representatives to celebrate his professional advancement with the Lakeland Fire Department. He has been with the department since 2006 and served as Driver Engineer prior to this promotion. Speakers at the ceremony, including Chief Ballard, Bat. Chief Niblack, Bat. Chief Maddox, and Lt. Wilson  all concurred that although Jason is one of the quieter members of LFD he is a man of deep integrity and honor who leads the way for others through his positive attitude and strong work ethic. A big congratulations and sincere thanks to Jason Merritt for his years of dedicated service.