|Should the paid fire crews take every fire call and leave the volunteers at the stations to run medical calls?|
This meeting topic, how to fix the Myrtle Grove fire station, is just one conversation of many that need to be taking place in the months to come, in my opinion.
While Myrtle Grove's facility deficiencies are unique to Myrtle Grove---seven other fire houses in the county (that like Myrtle Grove are not owned by the county) have various issues that will need to be addressed at some time in the near future.
So what is the best way to address these facility problems, knowing the county won't spend money on facilities the county doesn't own?
One option, the expensive one, is to buy these facilities outright from the volunteer fire departments that own them currently. Next, such facilities could be demolished and new fire houses built at a cost to taxpayers of around $2-$3Million dollars each. This is the option I favor the least....
A better option, in my opinion, is to allow the volunteer departments to keep ownership of their property and facilities, with the county coming in to remediate these facilities' deficiencies in exchange for long term use agreement (s) for the county to use these stations.
This option is less expensive, and I believe it will also serve to compel the career staffs that will in some cases be operating out of these locations to better cooperate and interact with the volunteer staffs that also operate out of these stations.
What do I mean by this?
Right now, the volunteer firefighter numbers are dwindling. Many I have spoken with have shared with me that they worry they will be "forced out" when career crews come to man their stations.
Volunteer firefighters have the same certifications and training as their career counterparts--yet these personnel cost a fraction of what career firefighters cost in terms of salaries, benefits, and pension costs.
I'm told one 12 man paid, career crew costs taxpayers $1Million dollars per year.
So we should be treating the volunteers very well, we should thank them for their willingness to serve, right? Unfortunately, in some instances this is not happening.
"We're treated like second class citizens" one veteran volunteer shared with me. "When the new career guys arrived, they started taking all the fire calls, leaving us at the station to do medical
calls." He continued "I know this neighborhood like the back of my hand, I've worked here for decades, yet I was told I could not drive the truck to a call if career firefighters were going to be on the truck. Why not let me drive--I know the neighborhoods better than these new guys!?!" Then he said "We need more EMS units out in the areas, so we're not driving our $500,000 fire trucks out to headache calls and chest pain calls--while the paid crews take every fire call. We understand the need to respond to medical calls, we know this is important, but we also want to be firefighters-- like the paid crews. If we're just relegated to do the mundane calls, I will lose my volunteers...."
Another firefighter from the northern part of the county shared his thoughts with me. "They are trying to make the whole county a career firefighter force--they don't want us." He continued "We just need help covering calls during the day, when most of our volunteers are working their day-jobs. If we get coverage from a professional crew during the day like [Century] does and like Molino used to--we can handle the calls at night, we've got more than enough volunteers to do this."
I'm told that the career crew that was to occupy Myrtle Grove is now working out of the Osceola station due to the mold issue at Myrtle Grove, and that the Myrtle Grove volunteers are still answering calls for Myrtle Grove. If Myrtle Grove volunteers are covering the calls for Myrtle Grove--why did we need to hire a twelve-man crew for Myrtle Grove in the first place??
I'm a fiscal conservative. I'm not going to vote to raise property tax rates to grow government and hire more paid firefighters when I know there are dozens and dozens of highly qualified volunteers that want to serve right now. These guys want to serve, but they don't want to be treated like second-class citizens. I'm going to make sure the volunteers are treated respectfully and appreciated. That is what I am going to work to do while also helping them to recruit more volunteers while simultaneously advocating that we do long-term use agreements with the remaining volunteer owned stations. If we get the stations fixed and modernized, rather than building brand new ones, we will save taxpayer dollars and we will also give the volunteers some deference in their own facilities; this could be the catalyst that forces cooperation. This is the smart way to handle this important issue--in my opinion.