Friday, March 13, 2015

INFO CENTRAL PRESENTS: Charlotte County Fire Chief Marianne Taylor

Wednesday March 11th, 2015

Chief Marianne Taylor had a full house for her Q&A this morning at the Palm Island Resort Clubhouse.  Sally B. Johnson of PIE’s “Info Central Presents:” introduced Chief Taylor, who then gave a short background of Charlotte County‘s assumption of Station 10 before taking questions from the audience.

What is the status of the fire station remodeling?

Chief Taylor said that they are getting the station up to County safety standard requirements economically.  The kitchen is remodeled, soffit & roof repairs are done, tie-downs have been strengthened and they increased the fire rating of ceiling levels downstairs.  Installation of a sprinkler system will be under way soon.  The firefighters are taking pride in their new station, volunteering to help with things like painting and pressure washing.

What is the staffing level by shift? Are all of the firefighters trained paramedics?

There are 6 firefighters assigned to the Island, two per shift.  One is a firefighter/paramedic, one is a firefighter/EMT (emergency medical technician).  Since most of the calls are medical and not fire, it is more cost-effective here to have more improved medical services than fire suppression, plus it meets the needs of the Island. “We provide not only fire suppression but also ALS (Advanced Life Support) services”, said Chief Taylor.  “We can do everything that you can do on an ambulance except transport.”  The mini-pumper has been outfitted for ALS because it can reach more locations on the Island. “All of the people out here have been with us for a long time, they are very experienced and knowledgeable”, she concluded.

Many Islanders have cell phones with out-of-town area codes, so if we dial 911 will there be a problem locating the emergency?

Chief Taylor emphasized the importance of dialing 911. “The best course of action is to call 911 and get all of your information to dispatch. They will know what to send and get the information to everyone who needs it.”  Any phone – cellphone or landline – can be used to call 911.  And she asked us to let her know if there is any incident where a call isn’t routed properly.

She then gave a short account of what happens when you dial 911 (indicating she would clarify this with dispatch).  The signal pings off the closest cell tower and goes to the sheriff’s dispatch station in Punta Gorda.  Dispatch is trained for all aspects of medical emergency and can notify everyone who needs to respond.  Dispatch tones out to Station 10 and simultaneously calls the barge directly.  If there are cars on the barge they will offload to wait for second units. Once responders are Island-side, if the call is critical the barge will wait Island-side to load the ambulance.  If not, the emergency vehicle will coordinate directly with the barge to load for return to the mainland.
Always call 911 to report fires, such as brush fires or beach fires.  Take note: the former Department of Forestry (DOF) is now Florida Fire Service.

Have you familiarized the firefighters with the entire Island?

Charlotte County took over December 31st at 8AM. They have 3 shifts (a, b, c) with each staff member on 24 hours, off 48 hours.  So, over a 3-day period each shift got one full day of orientation.  The firefighters have maps, and were shown access points and areas with difficult access.  The Resort provides access whenever the County needs it (with notice).  They have wall maps in the station with notes.  Jay Julian has helped with orientation.  “Yes, we are familiar with the Island but we continue to familiarize because it’s a must” the Chief said. They have some new personnel at the mainland stations that may not be as familiar with the Island.  But new technology at the station has a mapping system that pinpoints each call and provides info such as gate codes or keys, phone #, instructions and direction from dispatch.  They are also willing to do orientations with crews from other stations.

How can we help emergency personnel find us?

First and foremost, make sure you have a house number that is visible and reflective and close to the road.  CC has two programs for identification: they offer house number signs at $25 each that are reflective and printed on both sides, and they also have a lightbulb that you can screw into a porch light that flickers when you flip the switch (great for condos). 

Also, when you have a call, especially at the Resort, be aware that condo addresses have a building number and a condo number.  Make sure you give dispatch both.  Also, give specific landmarks that will help firefighers find the location i.e. “first house after the bend in the road”, etc.  If there is an extra person on-site during an emergency, send them out to the road OR send them out on a golf cart to guide the emergency vehicle in. According to Chief Taylor, “The more information you can give us about your location the better.”

Where does the ambulance take us?

The State mandates that they move you to the appropriate location based on need. For example, a cardiac emergency is transported to the Venice cardiac center, traumas go to Lee Memorial Trauma center in Ft. Myers (which is a Level 2 trauma center), burns go to Tampa burn center.  Other injuries can go to Englewood, Fawcett or Bayfront in Pt. Charlotte.  If you make a request, emergency personnel will try to take you there.  Sarasota memorial is not in the service provision area, but if you insist, they will take you there if they can give up the extra time that they will be out of service (i.e. if it is off-season).  The call volume in this area has increased so much that CC can’t afford to lose much service time for their ambulance and personnel.  “Our goal is to get you to the treatment you need as fast as possible.”

How is it determined whether to transport by helicopter?

Chief Taylor said that “our medics make the decision whether to call for a helicopter.” The helicopter is used almost exclusively for trauma injuries.  Air Med is housed at Station 7, Bay Flight is housed just over the county line in Northport.  It depends on who is closest who will respond.

How do we make sure that tourists know what to do in an emergency?

All of the rental units on the Island are privately owned.  In the resort, emergency info is put right next to the phone in the rental unit.  It needs to be reinforced that 911 info has to be there.

Can you tell us about our ISO rating? (ISO=Insurance Services Organization)

“I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear: you have virtually no ISO rating”.  The Chief then explained that this is primarily because we are inaccessible by land. Our 24/7 fire protection coverage has no bearing on the ISO rating.  40% of the rating is water supply.  “Fire flow” is the sustained pressure available for fire protection with normal daily operation.  The system can’t sustain what ISO requires for fire flow.  Bocilla Water & EWD will have the answer to the fire flow issue.  [Bocilla Utility is not recognized by ISO] 

Since the Island does not have a bridge, Chief Taylor looked into using their fire boat for the rating.  However, to qualify the fire boat must meet the same rating as a fire engine.  Which means that the boat would have to be too large to carry the same equipment load.  They are still working with ISO to determine what a do-able rating for a fire boat would be.  The other 60% of the rating relates to apparatus and equipment, units are also given on initial response time (the mainland 2nd unit response doesn’t count).  Chief Taylor was asked to keep in touch with someone who can inform Islanders on progress of ISO rating.

Why do we pay so much more than other county taxpayers? Are we the only ones paying through an MSBU?

“We assess the tax based on what it costs us to pay for your service.”  Previously we only paid for equipment since we had a volunteer station.  The equipment is dedicated to Island use and only to the Island, it only leaves the Island to go for servicing.  Also the firefighters do not leave the Island to answer other calls, they are dedicated staff 24/7.  Yes, the Barrier Island MSBU is the only taxing unit with property owners paying external to the County fire protection MSTU.  LGI has their own fire service and their own funding.  CC supports them with second units only.

Why does the shift change occur on the mainland? 

All fire and county vehicles cross on the ferry free of charge, but personal vehicles of the firefighters incur cost.  The County found it was more cost-effective to rent parking at the lot and do the shift change there.  Previously they had done the shift change off-Island at the fire station, but that involved overtime for the staff.  Linda Cotherman, PIE Board member, suggested that the firefighters could do a walk-on to keep the truck on the Island side, which would eliminate the half-hour of having the station empty during the shift change. Linda asked  “What happens if the barge breaks down?  The firefighters could be stranded on the mainland.” Chief Taylor said she will look into it.

Have you tested the water pressure at the hydrants?

Because of the sprinkler installation at the firehouse, they had an engineer out here within the last month as well as CC fire inspectors.  The water pressure at 14 PSI does not meet ISO standards (20 PSI), or the 500 gallon per minute standards. Dean commented that the resort meets the 500 gpm standard.

Jay Julian asked if the County has done an equipment inventory.  Taylor said that they just did one and will be doing another.

What kind of equipment is on the mini-pumper to make it ALS-equipped?

Chief Taylor gave a list as follows: jump kit w/IV meds, pain relief, CPAP, thermal blankets, medical glide scope for intubation, a monitor/defibrillator that can send heart tracer directly to the hospital wirelessly (except Englewood).  “We’ve got some wonderful technology out there. At this point we can go from call to cath lab in 16 minutes.”

What is the role of your staff in the event of a hurricane?

Service will not roll in sustained winds of 45 mph.  They will move the equipment off the Island, encourage everyone to evacuate and then evacuate themselves.  The station is plugged into emergency management and will know at what time the winds are expected, so they can coordinate with the barge to move fire personnel and emergency vehicles off island.  They would be able to do search and rescue by boat after an event.

What equipment would you like to have that you don’t have at the fire station?

On the fire side, a turbo-draft. This will allow firefighters to draft from a water source from 200 ft. away.  It can flow water out of a canal.  We do have floating pumps.  Vehicles include an engine, a tanker (carries extra water) the ALS-equipped mini-pumper and the Polaris (provides access where other vehicles can’t go).

Should we have our home sprinkler systems inspected?

Yes.  She will look into the inspection requirements. “96% of all fires in a building with a sprinkler system are put out with one sprinkler.”

In the past, many Islanders would go to the fire station for minor injuries i.e. cuts or sprains.  Is this appropriate?

“We don’t want to be treated like a clinic because that’s not in our scope of operations” Chief Taylor commented. If you have a medical emergency and call 911, you will be treated.  The proper protocols will be followed, and if you don’t want to continue treatment by going to the hospital, you can sign a refusal to release the firefighters.  One reason why they can’t treat (for example, a sprain) is that they don’t have a way to differentiate between a sprain and a fracture, so if they treat for a sprain and you have no follow-up you could have complications.  The state is working towards a “community paramedics” program to do vaccines and some home health care, but this has not been developed yet. In the meantime, “do not come to them because it’s not what we do.”

Where do we get fire extinguishers re-charged?

Google ‘fire extinguisher recharge near port charlotte fl”. There are two listings in Pt. Charlotte: ABC Fire Equipment Corporation and Fire Pro LLC.

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