Sunday, February 2, 2014

1.28.2014 Fire & EMS Study Group Community Meeting

On Tuesday morning the Island Fire & EMS Study Group hosted a community meeting as a follow-up to the presentation by Chief Scott Lane of Englewood Fire District on 1.11.2014. Members of the committee in attendance were Bob Madden, Rick Brunett, Bill Peterson, Linda Cotherman and Dick Sadenwater. 47 Island stakeholders attended the meeting.

The Research
Rick gave a re-cap of Chief Lane’s presentation on the 11th: his plan is to staff Station 10 full-time with firefighter/EMTs, upgrade the fire protection equipment and remodel the fire station. The Chief had presented budget figures based on 1,454 residential units. After confirming with the property tax appraiser’s office, that number was downgraded to 1,064 (633 residential and 404 vacant lots). 
On January 15th, Bill Peterson attended the EFD Commissioners’ meeting, where Island service was discussed.  Bill reported that 3 of the commissioners publicly stated that they would not support anything but a 24/7 manned Station 10 and would not supply part-time firefighters. After the meeting 2 additional commissioners said privately that they concur.
Dick Sadenwater reported that he met and spoke with County Commissioner Bill Truex. The commissioner spoke generally of his support of the Island, and that he would present any reasonable proposals from the Island to the County Commission.
The committee looked at Little Gasparilla to explore a self-funding model for fire protection.  However, the committee found the idea impractical for the Island, with legal complexities involved with establishing the independent station.
The committee was clear that any proposal going forward, either from EFD or Charlotte County, would involve professional fire services 24/7 at Station 10 on the Island.

The Numbers
The committee stated that they have solid information from both EFD and Charlotte County regarding the tax estimates for fire service. The County has a lower tax rate for residential and commercial, and EFD has a lower rate for residential vacant lots. The estimates are “like and similar” for comparison purposes.

Present tax rates
EFD original proposal
EFD revised proposal
Charlotte County
Residential Unit
Capital Cost per Res. Unit
$206.70 per year/5 years
Vacant Lot
Capital Cost per Vacant Lot
est. $11.10
est $19.54
Undeveloped Vacant Lots
Captial cost per undeveloped
Commercial & Multi-Unit
$0.20/sq ft
Capital cost per commercial
0.00/sq. ft.
$0.24/sq. ft.
$0.42/sq. ft.

The Options
Generally, Station 10 gets 30-40 calls a year, the majority of which are medical. The difference between Emergency Medical Services (provided by Emergency Medical Technicians) and Advanced Life Support (provided by paramedics) was explained.  EMT’s are usually first on-scene and stabilize the injured while waiting for a paramedic.  Paramedics have more medical training and are authorized to use narcotics. The County currently provides paramedic and ambulance/transport services. 
The committee spoke with the Assistant County Administrator, since the County fire department reports to her office.  She said that since Island coverage has not been a County issue for 2 years, she needed to be brought up to speed but indicated that Charlotte County might be willing to re-examine the options.  
When asked if it were possible to have more community input to the capital expenditures, she explained that all County buildings are subject to a maintenance schedule, so the list of improvements to the fire station would probably be similar to EFD. 
However, there could be a difference in the approach to the equipment expenditure. EFD proposes spending $420k for a new engine. The new engine would be foam-capable, which reduces the amount of water needed to fight fires. 
Presently the County owns all of the fire equipment at Station 10, which is solely for use on the Island.  The County maintains this equipment (using funds from the MSBU), and they estimate the expected remaining life of the existing equipment is a minimum of 8 years.
Charlotte County is outfitting all of their fire stations on the mainland with ALS engines, with at least one “fire/medic” (firefighters who are certified paramedics) per station. These engines are fully equipped for emergency medical treatment. Having Charlotte County as provider opens the possibility of having an ALS engine and upgrading to FF/medics. The cost of the service upgrade might not involve a substantial rate increase.

The Comparison
Both EFD and Charlotte county want 24/7 Island-based fire protection. EFD wants more capital equipment expenditures right away.  EFD stated that they believe a 24-hour barge service would be of no value.  Charlotte County indicated that 24-barge service would offer some supplementary benefit.
Englewood has no plan to upgrade to ALS engines at each station. They will continue to serve with firefighter/EMTs. Charlotte County offers the possibility of an ALS engine on the Island, with at least one firefighter/medic per shift.

The Opinions
Having the most experience with both, the committee was then asked their personal opinions as to which way they would go.  Generally they conveyed seeing more opportunity for better value with Charlotte County, although some expressed a need for more information before jumping on board.  Freed from his committee obligation of neutrality, one member said that “I feel that long term the County would be more open to considering or valuing the choices of the residents on the Island.”

The Conclusion
At that point, the committee resumed their official hats and took a straw poll of the attendees.  With a show of hands, the audience supported forward motion in the direction of Charlotte County.  The committee will also make efforts to conduct an electronic survey for more community input.
The committee was asked about the process to get a consensus and move forward. They said that the County is actually the default position: if we do nothing EFD will cancel the contract come 4/1. It was generally agreed to move forward sooner than later, to start negotiations with Charlotte County and let them know what the residents want.
When asked, the committee agreed to continue on and to interface with both EFD & CC to arrive at the best level of service for the MSBU tax dollar.

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