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Hillsborough County Fla--Woman Barricades Herself to Protest Fire Department Actions

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    Cocoa Beach Fla--Veteran of 29 years battling Cancer

    Benefit crowd overwhelms firefighter

    29-year Cocoa department veteran battles cancer

    By John A. Torres

    COCOA -- For firefighter David Strickland, there were simply no words.

    Thousands of supporters, friends and well-wishers showed up Sunday at F. Burton Smith Regional Park in Cocoa for a benefit held in Strickland's honor. The 29-year veteran of the Cocoa Fire Department has been stricken with cancer.

    He had a kidney removed two weeks ago, and in August, doctors will attempt to treat his lungs.

    "This is really something, isn't it?" Strickland said, as he greeted those walking by his chair during the nine-hour benefit. "I had no idea so many people care about me. It's pretty much overwhelming. There are no words to describe it."

    Strickland, dressed in camouflage pants, suspenders with a black biker shirt and an authentic Panama hat, said it's too early at this point to offer a prognosis.

    Benefit attendees crowded the shade of the park pavilion and danced to southern rock performed by the band, Hog Heaven. Patrons had their faces painted, drank beer and, most importantly, spent money that will be used to help Strickland pay for his medical bills.

    Strickland, a 52-year-old former biker, was glad to see hundreds of motorcyclists come out and support him.

    One biker, a Melbourne firefighter, hugged Strickland for a long time while whispering words of encouragement in his ear.

    "I'm just here to support my brother," said Lt. John Trippany of the Melboure Fire Department, who also belongs to the Wind and Fire Motorcycle Club. "All of us are brothers. I lost two brothers at an early age. I know the trip he's going through."

    Donations were being announced throughout the afternoon and raffle tickets were sold for chances at off-road vehicles, refrigerators and patio sets.

    For Cocoa residents Barry and Louise Voight, the benefit was a way of saying thanks.

    "We came to support him and raise some money for him," Barry Voight said. "He has given to this community his whole life."

    Melanie Boswell drove from Palm Bay to Cocoa to take her son to the festivities. She couldn't believe how many people were there when she arrived.

    "I was shocked actually," she said.

    Added Cocoa resident Johnna Stamey: "This is for a good cause and it's something to do. So here I am."

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  • Hillsborough County Fla--Woman Barricades Herself to Protest Fire Department Actions

    ST PETERSBURG TIMES--Hillsborough

    Standoff ends peacefully

    A woman distressed over a fire that damaged her parents' property surrenders after holing up in a gas station bathroom for two hours.

    By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 29, 2003

    CITRUS PARK - A 31-year-old Keystone woman barricaded herself inside a Speedway gas station for two hours Monday morning before voluntarily walking out of the station's bathroom into the custody of officers.

    Beatrice Blakley, who was reportedly upset about Hillsborough County Fire Rescue's response to a disastrous fire June 13 at her parents' nearby home, gave herself up to negotiators about noon. She was taken to a local hospital for evaluation.

    "We try as hard as we can for a peaceable (end)," said Capt. Paul Davis, head of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office negotiating team.

    Davis said it was unlikely that Blakley, a mother of four, would be charged with a crime.

    Distressed and emotional, Blakley walked into the Speedway about 10:20 a.m. and barricaded herself in the bathroom, Davis said. Deputies did not know she was unarmed until she came out, he said.

    A heavily armed force of deputies and SWAT officers converged on the business at the southeast corner of Gunn Highway and S Mobley Road.

    Specially trained negotiators also were brought in to calm Blakley after she refused to speak with deputies, sheriff's Sgt. Laura Bozart said.

    Officers, acting on an anonymous tip passed on from a local television station, closed down a day care center next door to the Speedway. But a McDonald's restaurant across the street continued to operate as usual.

    Blakley's family watched nervously from the McDonald's parking lot.

    In a tape they recorded at the request of the Sheriff's Office, they pleaded with Blakley to give herself up. But the incident ended before she could hear the tape, said her father, Joseph Pasco.

    Pasco, a handyman, said his daughter was upset about a fire last month that destroyed his shed, which contained many of Blakley's personal possessions, including photographs and her children's memorabilia.

    At least some family members, including Pasco, think firefighters were slow to respond and let the shed burn while they saved the house from flames.

    Fire Rescue division chief Chip Branam defended county firefighters.

    A spate of emergency calls that day because of severe weather kept the closest unit from responding, he said. But the next-closest unit arrived as quickly as possible, about 10 minutes later, he said.

    By that time, it was too late to save the shed, Branam said, so firefighters immediately focused on the house, which was beginning to smoke, a sign of impending fire.

    Pasco said he lost five vehicles and an extensive tool collection in the fire. Two sons and a daughter-in-law also lived in the shed structure, he said.

    Family members were infuriated by the Fire Rescue incident report, which indicated that the shed and tools had zero value, Pasco said.

    During an interview Monday and in a report to county Fire Chief Bill Nesmith that followed questions by county Commissioner Ken Hagan, Branam described that as an honest mistake on the part of veteran Fire Rescue Capt. Michael Tumbleson. Tumbleson was told to be more careful in the future, Branam said.

    Both sides agree that lightning started the blaze.

    "It was a very unfortunate fire," Branam said. "Obviously the family lost a lot of stuff. We feel terrible about that. They could have lost their house as well."

    - Josh Zimmer can be reached at 269-5314 or [email protected]

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