Friday, March 28, 2014

From the Island Fire & EMS Study Group: an article in the Sun

Charlotte County to take over island fire duties from Englewood in 2015
By STEVE REILLY
   STAFF WRITER
   ENGLEWOOD — After receiving fire protection from the Englewood Area Fire Control District for the bridgeless Palm Island Resort, along with Knight and Don Pedro islands, property owners will be turning to Charlotte County Fire/EMS in 2015 for the service.
   Englewood Fire Chief Scott Lane told Englewood fire commissioners Wednesday that Charlotte County Fire and Public Safety Interim Chief Marianne Taylor intends to take over the fire protection in January 2015.
   “At this time, Charlotte County does not agree to the (fire district’s) request to terminate the agreement on April 1, 2014, and expects the district to honor the terms of the agreement, and (to) continue to provide the fire and rescue services for (the barrier islands),” Taylor stated in a letter to Lane, dated March 10. “If the county is in a position to assume fire/rescue services to the island earlier than (Dec. 31), you will be notified in writing.”
   Volunteer firefighters provided fire protection on the islands for decades. Charlotte County paid for and maintained the island’s fire station and equipment through a Barrier Island Fire Services Municipal Service Benefit Unit. That all ended in 2011, when the volunteer department folded.
   To replace the volunteers, former Charlotte County fire chief Dennis DiDio proposed in 2011 manning the islands with paid firefighters 24/7. DiDio proposed MSBU assessments of $511.88 for residential properties, and 42 cents per square foot for Palm Island Resort and other commercial properties.
   In 2011, former Englewood fire chief Brian Gorski offered the islanders a more palatable alternative. Gorski’s proposal called for the fire district to serve the islands from its mainland stations during the operational hours of the Palm Island Transit barges. During the off hours, two of the fire district’s trained volunteers man the island station. That arrangement proved far more economical for the islanders. Their present MSBU assessments are $140.57 per residential unit, and 20 cents per square foot for commercial properties.
   Charlotte County, however, continued to provide ambulance and emergency medical service to islanders.
   Lane, however, has stated he feels that arrangement bears liabilities for the fire district, and proposed providing 24/7 service with professional firefighters. He also recommended a $1.03 million budget that also included capital improvements to the island station and equipment replacement.
   Earlier this year, Lane proposed island assessments of $760.68 per residential unit, and $1.54 per square foot for commercial properties. Islanders then decided to turn to the county for fire protection.
   Charlotte County staff has not yet recalculated MSBU fire-protection assessment rates for 2015. However County Budget Director Gordon Burger said he doesn’t expect those numbers to be much different than what DiDio originally proposed.
   Email: reilly@sun-herald.com 

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