I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fire Service Facilities

Should the paid fire crews take every fire call and leave the volunteers at the stations to run medical calls?
This Thursday's County Commission meeting will have an important discussion about a fire service facility in Escambia County that desperately needs mold remediation and some other repairs. 

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.


Dale Berrian said...

I want to say I began as a volunteer Firefighter at the Myrtle Grove Volunteer Fire department in 1984. I served for 12 years. There was a time that collectively this County was well protected. At that time we got along with the only career crews we had. That was the Navy Fire crew and the City of Pensacola. We all worked together and never ever had a wrong word to say about each other. Almost every station had enough volunteers. In fact there was a time that we had to stop taking applications because we did not have enough bunker gear to issue. I fear those days are gone. It saddens me that it has come to where it is now. Now ask yourself is there a way to fix this? The short answer is YES.How you ask? There are several cost effective ways. #1. Training. How hard would it be to train level one firefighters as level two firefighters. There are not that many volunteers left. So while we are at that point why not train what we have. I feel this would provide several positive opportunities for so many people to include the Chief of Escambia Fire and Rescue and his officers. He would know that EVERY firefighter on scene are trained the same and can function the same. Well how much would this cost you ask? Well there are fire instructors within the ranks of ECFR that can teach this to the volunteers. With that being said it raises the question will the volunteers get a fair shake from the paid instructors and not get beat up and pushed to the point to where you almost have to make the decision to quit the class to prevent permanent injury. I attended one of those classes and people were getting hurt with certain instructors. We were not treated as fairly as the next class that was a level two class. I was in the fire service for a long time when I was in before. I never not once used a three inch line as an attack line with a smooth bore nozzle and advanced it to the top floor while flowing water. Just one example there. I also feel that training volunteers the same as career firefighters would hopefully get rid of that I am better than you problem with a little time. #2. I have also heard that the professional firefighters union have a problem with volunteers. Could it be that volunteers won't join their union? It could be that we were never asked. #3. I think it would be more productive if training and recruitment went back to the district Chiefs. Things such as applications for volunteers tend to get processed a lot quicker this getting volunteers to work for the people of this County a lot quicker. Anyway that is just a few of my ideas that I would be happy to discuss. Thanks for reading this. Sincere regards Dale Berrian at Myrtle Grove fire station.

Anonymous said...

What needs to stop is the fiction posted above. I feel sorry if you believe the above without vetting. I'm sure you will see the lies and deceit.