Why You Shouldn't Eliminate Rescue 50
Mayor and Councilmembers,
I am writing you on behalf of public safety, specifically the proposed elimination of Rescue 50. Rescue 50 is strategically located in Countryside at Station 50 on the corner of State Road 580 and Countryside Blvd. Rescue 50 is a transport capable Advanced Life Support unit staffed with two Paramedics. Stationed with Rescue 50 is Engine 50. A fire suppression unit staffed with 3 Firefighter/EMTs. Together, these two units have been protecting the citizens of Countryside and surrounding areas for over 30 years.
For many years I have listened to you and previous councils state that public safety is its highest priority. I feel that this is evident by the decision you recently made with regards to keeping our police department when the Sheriff proposed to save our citizens millions of dollars. I mean no disrespect to the Sheriff's Department when I say you made the right decision. You realized that your police department stands out among the rest, as does your fire department.
Every year since 1980 the call volume for your fire department has increased substantially. It is no different in Countryside and for Station 50. The numbers show that Rescue 50 has increased its call volume by nearly 100 calls a year since 2007. During that same time span, there has been an average of 179 medical calls that Engine 50 has had to respond to because Rescue 50 was engaged in other emergency operations or delayed/out of service for training or some other reason. That is 179 lives that, if the backup unit wasn't there, would have had to wait longer for another Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor or Palm Harbor unit to respond to their emergency. What does that do? It increases response times and creates a "Domino Effect" which leaves citizens in those other districts without EMS or fire protection. In our business seconds count and when it is your emergency, that delay will seem like an eternity.
Recently, the city spent $89,000 dollars to have an efficiency study of the fire department completed by Matrix Consultant Group. In my opinion, that study had some flaws. One major flaw was not to include the unincorporated areas of Clearwater that your fire department protects. The Matrix consultant stated in his presentation that those areas don't typically use our services. He is mistaken. Let's just use On Top of the World as one example. Your fire department responded to this retirement community for various emergencies approximately 920 times in 2009. So far this year they have responded 669 times, on a pace to eclipse the 2009 responses. And when Station 48 is not available to respond to this community, Rescue 50 typically responds in their place. If Rescue 50 is eliminated, Engine 50 would respond, leaving all of Countryside without EMS or fire protection.
Another flaw in the study is they did not include mutual aid responses. I agree with what was said in the presentation. A city our size should be able to handle our own. But the fact remains that we do receive and give mutual aid, especially in Countryside. Your fire department has no control of the mutual aid units as to when they are available or not. Plus, the surrounding departments operate under some different procedures than Clearwater. If Rescue 50 is eliminated we will be receiving more mutual aid, that's if, those units are available, causing that "Domino Effect" mentioned earlier.
The study did realize that Station 50's district is unique. There are many long, winding roads that are difficult and dangerous to navigate in a timely fashion. The study stated that under the fire department's goals for initial response, that we can effectively cover most of the city, with exception to areas north of Station 50 and the eastern side of the city between Stations 50 and 49. It goes on to state that NFPA 1710 (Recommendation for minimum staffing of fire rescue units) recommends a minimum of 13 to 15 personnel for an effective and safe initial structure fire assignment. Your fire department has developed a response requirement that calls for 18 personnel. The maps in the study indicate that the majority of the city can be reached by 19 or more personnel. The beach areas and the areas north of Station 50 receive fewer personnel within the response time target. However, 11 or more personnel can reach these areas. If Rescue 50 was eliminated, there would be 2 less Firefighters to respond to that incident making it unsafe for the citizens we protect and for the firefighters to effectively extinguish the fire in a safe manner. Based on comparables, Clearwater is already 10% lower in ratio than the average firefighter to resident at 1:552, equivalent to 64 firefighters.
Attachment C of the study is the comparative study. The study referenced 10 communities that compare with Clearwater. Based on their data, Clearwater residents pay 17.45% less per capita for fire service, ranking 6 to the comparables. Total calls for service per capita was 0.22, ranking 5th on the list. Overall in cost per call Clearwater ranked the third lowest. Do you see where I am going with this? Conclusion of the comparative survey of cities show that Clearwater is doing "well" in budget costs for fire rescue, all at the current staffing levels and number of apparatus. The one area comparables show where money can be saved is in fire administration. This is yet another area where the Matrix consultant contradicted himself from the data they compiled. According to the study, Clearwater's percentage of chief officers to adopted FTE positions is 7.11% or 1.74% higher than comparison fire departments. That percentage is equivalent to two chief officer positions. No one wants to see anyone lose their job, but when it comes down to public safety, would you rather keep a life saving unit on the road or two administrative positions that are nice to have but not a necessity?
I find it extremely alarming that the elimination of Rescue 50 is not mentioned at all within that 173-page study, but was recommended by the Fire Chief and the Matrix consultant. The study did contain a few other suggestions for cutting costs, but they were not recommended to be implemented. I watched the presentation given to you by the Matrix Group and understand that the consultant stated that we did not need Rescue 50. But I ask, if Rescue 50 is that insignificant and not needed to protect the citizens of Countryside, why didn't they include the elimination of it in their report after all that extensive data was obtained and compiled? This city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on several different studies, only to pick and choose what they want out of them. Why waste the money if it's not going to be followed?
I always relay to you that you have a tough job and commend each and every one of you for taking on that responsibility. I ask that you look elsewhere for your savings. With just a few facts and stats I have stated in this letter, shows the significance and role that Rescue 50 has protecting the citizens of Countryside. Please make the right decision for the public safety of that community.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.
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