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Nisbet leaving Bayshore with legacy

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Jun 14, 2021

Bayshore Fire District Chief Lawrence Nesbet.

Larry Nesbit stepped into the role of fire chief at the Bayshore Fire & Rescue District at a difficult time.

It was 2008 and the local housing market was on the brink of collapse. When the dust settled, housing values (as well as the tax base) shrank by nearly 56 percent, meaning that very difficult decisions would have to be made.

He made those tough choices and, 13 years later, housing prices are finally back to where they were, the district has expanded, and the Bayshore district has been able to maintain a standard of excellence residents expect.

Nisbet will be retiring from Bayshore on June 29, thus becoming the first Bayshore firefighter to retire from a district known more as a launch point for young firefighters looking to more to larger agencies.

“These have been the best 13 years of the 33 I’ve been a firefighter, even with the difficulties with the layoffs it’s been the best,” Nisbet said.

Nisbet started at Bayshore in 1988 before going to Iona-McGregor two years later, where he moved up through the ranks until 2003, when he become a battalion chief in Estero.

In 2008, the firefighters at Bayshore asked him to become their chief.

When Nisbet took over at Bayshore, it was at the start of the housing bust. When housing prices dropped drastically, that became the new floor for Save Our Homes, Florida’s Homestead exemption program. It was nothing anybody expected or prepared for.

When Nisbet saw what he had to work with, he was forced to do the toughest thing he’s ever had to do, lay off firefighters.

It was then that Nisbet reached a low point, attempting to get residents to approve a new assessment to raise funds, only to get it blown out of the water twice.

“I had no control over it. We were being gutted 20 percent at a time and we had to lay them off. I had to get SAFER Grants to bring them back,” Nisbet said. “When we got outside our grant windows to sustain personnel, we tried to do the assessment in 2014 and it failed twice. I felt I had failed the people at that point because I hadn’t figured anything else out.”

Slowly, the housing market improved. But it only resulted in $20,000- to $40,000 gains. That was better than nothing, and it did add up after a while.

Nisbet has also seen Bayshore take over the firefighting duties at the Lee County side of Babcock Ranch.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was being able to drop the area’s ISO rating from a 4 to a 2, making it one of just seven departments in the county with such a number.

“We’re an ISO 2 district with one station and a combination department. I also think it was replacing the fleet. We had a lot of used apparatus and we traded maintenance costs for truck payments,” Nisbet said. “Also, keeping people working as much as possible through grants. I collected $3.5 million in grant funds for the district.

As for the future, Nisbet believes the department will be in good hands with new chief Doug Underwood as well as a new captain and new engineer now on board.

Underwood has been acting as a shadow for Nisbet and has been making many of the day-to-day decisions en route to officially taking over.

“He’s one of my most well-versed, well-rounded captains. All three of my captains are very well qualified, but Doug had all the knowledge at multiple venues to fill the role,” Nisbet said. “He has educated himself for the role and strived to be the next chief and it made it easy for me that everyone wanted him to be the next chief.”

Another thing Nisbet is proud of is that Bayshore has been the starting point for many great firefighters in Lee County.

“We’ve always been a good starting point for local firefighters. You cannot go to any other fire district and not find someone who started out at Bayshore, either as a paid firefighter or a volunteer,” Nisbet said. “We do our job well and do it professionally and are the right size for the area we protect.”

“I love this department and I love what it’s become and I can’t wait to see what Doug does with it,” Nisbet said.