FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
Volume 3, Number 30, July 24, 2006
and communities are safer because of men and women who accepted the
challenge of more advanced training provided through the State Fire
Marshal’s Office this past month.
program trained more than two dozen men and women and certified them to join
methamphetamine (meth) lab regional response teams around the state. That
means they are able to help dismantle the toxic and deadly labs being found
in homes, backyard sheds, vehicles, and hotel and motel rooms. In a new
national poll released last week, sheriffs in 48 percent of counties polled
identified meth as their No. 1 drug problem. After seeing an increase in
meth lab fires and explosions here in Florida, I asked the State Fire
Marshal’s Office to provide courses that would better prepare our state’s
emergency responders to respond to this epidemic. Our training, provided in
partnership with the Multi-jurisdictional Counter-drug Task Force Training
Center and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is considered the most
current meth lab responder training available in the nation.
program, which wrapped up last week at the State Fire College in Ocala,
provided ongoing, intensive training to responders who are members of Urban
Search and Rescue Task Forces from around Florida. The more than 300 hours
of training ended with a final exam that had the students cutting through
steel and concrete in a simulation of a collapsed apartment and parking
garage. The facilities at the fire college include the only simulator in
the nation that provides real smoke and fire conditions, intended to give
responders the best hands-on training possible.
emergency responders face real and serious threats every time they leave the
police station or firehouse, and as State Fire Marshal I have taken very
seriously my responsibility to ensure that they are as prepared as possible.
-- Tom Gallagher
PREPARING FOR SCHOOL CAN SAVE MONEY ON NEEDED SUPPLIES
Families can save money on
needed school supplies this week thanks to a Sales Tax Holiday approved by
the Florida Legislature. State and local sales tax will not be collected on
clothes, footwear, books and certain accessories selling for $50 or less,
July 22 through
midnight on Monday, July 30. Certain school
supplies selling for $10 or less are also tax-exempt during this period.
The sales tax holiday will
save shoppers an
estimated $32.1 million in state sales tax and an
million in local sales taxes. Sales tax holidays were held in 1998 through
2001 and again in 2004, 2005 and this year.
Businesses and shoppers
with questions regarding the sales tax holiday can contact the Department of
Revenue toll-free taxpayer assistance line at 1-800-352-3671 between 8 a.m.
and 7 p.m. on weekdays. For a list of items exempt from state and local
sales tax, visit
GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES ARRESTS OF TWO PUBLIC ADJUSTERS
IN $400,000 HURRICANE INSURANCE FRAUD CASE
MIAMI—Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced today the
arrests of two licensed public adjusters who fraudulently collected more
than $400,000 from two insurance companies by submitting bogus contractor
agreements. The arrests were made by detectives in the Department of
Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud.
“Insurance fraud leads to higher insurance premiums which hit every
Floridian in the pocketbook,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department.
“We will continue to follow every lead regarding possible fraudulent
activity and send a strong message that such abuse of our citizens will not
Jose Manuel Soler and Ariel L. Fernandez, of Coast to Coast Public
Adjusters, allegedly submitted approximately 75 forged contractor
agreements, resulting in an overpayment by Citizens Insurance of
approximately $314,596.54. Detectives said an additional 29 such documents
were submitted to the Tower Hill Group resulting in a loss of approximately
Detectives said the forged contractor agreements were submitted in order to
obtain an additional 20 percent of the estimated claim for overhead and
profit. The fraudulent contractor agreements stemmed from real claims for
water pipe damage. Following each storm in 2004 and 2005, Gallagher capped
public adjusters fees that could be charged to storm victims and implemented
a 14-day day period for victims to rescind public adjuster contracts without
Both Soler and Fernandez surrendered on the charges Thursday and were
incarcerated in the Miami-Dade County Jail. Each was charged with 104 counts
of insurance fraud (third degree), 104 counts of grand theft (third degree)
and one count of organized scheme to defraud (first degree) each. Bail was
expected to be set at $1,050,000. Additional arrests are anticipated.
The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud,
investigates fraud in all types of insurance, including health, life, auto,
property and workers’ compensation. To report information about this case or
any other possible insurance fraud case, call the department’s Fraud
Fighters hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered
for information leading to a conviction.
‘FINAL EXAM’ FOR FLORIDA’S URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE TASK FORCES
Training has been funded by $32 million in Homeland Security funds
Most tests involve paper, a pencil and maybe a calculator, but this one
involved concrete, steel and human resolve.
the Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Forces from Tampa Bay, Central
Florida, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Volusia County completed intensive
structural collapse training at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala. The
"victims" and the scenario were props, but the work was all real, said Tom Gallagher, Florida’s state fire marshal.
“Florida has one of the most well-prepared response systems in the country,”
said Gallagher, who oversees the Division of State Fire Marshal which
provided the training. “We have ensured that all of our emergency
responders get hands-on training so that they are as prepared as possible
for any disaster here at home.”
The final exam had students cutting through poured
concrete, concrete block and steel to rescue “victims” trapped in apartments
and cars in a collapsed parking garage. The test wrapped up an 80-hour course
that followed 264 hours of mechanical, trench, confined space and rope rescue
training. Funding for the training and the facility comes from more than $32
million in U.S. homeland security funds that have been pumped into Florida
and administered by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
The US&R training center at the State Fire College provides specialized and
live-fire training and is the only "post-blast" collapse simulator in the
United States providing fire and smoke conditions.
Since September 11, 2001, the number of US&R task forces in Florida has
grown from two to nine. Those task forces are located in the Tampa Bay and
Southwest Florida areas, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Central Florida
(Orlando, Orange County, Seminole County) North Central Florida (Marion
County, Alachua County, Gainesville, Ocala) and Volusia. Two FEMA US&R task
forces are located in the Miami area, and the nine task forces comprise the
Florida Urban Search and Rescue System.
More than $1 million in homeland security funds have been spent to train and
equip each of seven state task forces, including providing each with a
tractor-trailer response truck stocked with tools and equipment to respond
to a wide range of emergencies. In addition, local governments have been
supported with some of the personnel costs incurred during training.
The two FEMA task forces in Florida responded following the terrorist
attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon, and all nine provided critical
assistance during the past two hurricane seasons both in Florida and
Homeland security funds have also helped establish and equip 50 technical
rescue teams and supplement the 28 existing regional hazardous materials
teams, as well as provide almost 300,000 hours of training to nearly 1,700
first responders serving on these teams.
“Because of the work of these men and women and their commitment to protect
Florida’s citizens,” Gallagher said, “our state is better prepared and
equipped to respond to any threat, protecting our families and making our
BFAI, FDLE, MCTFT TEAM UP TO CERTIFY METH LAB RESPONDERS
During the week of July 10 through July 14 the Bureau
of Fire and Arson Investigations, Florida Department of Law Enforcement,
Multi-jurisdictional Counter-drug Task Force Training Center at the St.
Petersburg College jointly sponsored a clan lab certification course with
the assistance of the Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosive Analysis.
This important training and certification is critical
to the state in its continuing effort to combat the clandestine drug lab
problem that has grown in Florida over past years. Funding to the class was
provided by the sponsoring agencies as well as regional domestic security
funds for both the Northwest and Northeast Domestic Security Regional Task
State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher recognized the need
for this important training as part of legislative initiatives passed during
the 2006 legislative session and made a priority by the State Fire Marshal.
The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations has responded to some fifty of
these labs that have exploded or ignited, an event common to some 30% of the
labs around the nation.
The intensive training was attended by first responders
from law enforcement agencies throughout Florida. Each of the attendees
returned to their community certified to respond to reported drug labs and
capable to work was part of the state’s strategy in dismantling the labs in
as safe a manner as possible.
The specialized training was provided by subject matter
experts from the nationally recognized California Department of Justice.
California was one of the first states to be faced with large numbers of
Fire Marshal Gallagher stated, “I would like to commend
the men and women who attended this training to become certified in
responding to drug labs in our state. The service they provide to their
communities every day is complicated by the dangers these labs pose and
their willingness to respond and dismantle these dangerous labs before they
explode or ignite is indeed commendable and deserving of our praise.
BFAI, BFFEA, FDLE and MCTFT will be hosting a second
training class to certify drug lab responders in October.
STATEWIDE LAW ENFORCEMENT RADIO SYSTEM FULLY IMPLEMENTED
The recent full implementation of the Statewide Law Enforcement
Radio System (SLERS) gives more than 6,500 law enforcement officers
the ability to communicate with their peers throughout the state using a
central radio system. With this new system, officers from various state
agencies are able to effectively communicate with one another on one system.
By providing a single system, Florida is able to provide law enforcement
officers responding to an emergency with a more efficient means of
communications and the ability to talk to one another in real time.
"In the event of a disaster,
this new communications ability will save
lives and property," said State Fire Marshal Gallagher. "As first responders
in emergency situations, the coordination by radio among state agencies will
make a qualitative difference."
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