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Flagler’s West Side, Tired of Black Sheep Label, Wants Better Fire-Rescue Services

| February 25, 2013

The west-side volunteer fire station is currently unstaffed.  Flagler  County officials are talking about renovating it and redeploying staff to as a way to improve response times on the west side (Tanya Snyder)

The west-side volunteer fire station is currently unstaffed. Flagler County officials are talking about renovating it and redeploying staff to as a way to improve response times on the west side (Tanya Snyder)

One caller for fire-rescue response in rural west Flagler County during January waited nearly 23 minutes for help to arrive. Of the 34 calls last month from the western part of the county, response to five other calls also took more than 20 minutes and response to six calls took 19 minutes or more. Help reached seven callers on the west side of Flagler County in under 10 minutes during January.

“Response times on the west side of the county, where we don’t have a manned station, are going to be longer,” Flagler County Fire Rescue Chief Don Petito said. Call volumes on the west side of Flagler County are also low, about four percent of total fire-rescue calls countywide come from the west side, basically west of U.S. Highway 1. Response times to the west side can vary depending on calls elsewhere in Flagler and which station has a crew available to send to the west side. “We’re doing the best we can,” Petito said.

The west side has long been ripe for more fire rescue services. But between budget constraints and a persisting anti-tax mood, the Flagler County Commission has been looking for ways to cut fire rescue services, not broaden them. Last year one of the highlights of budget season at the commission was a protracted debate over the fate of a new fire truck, which one commissioner opposed. The west side is a small political constituency, so ignoring it hasn’t been difficult, though County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, who represents the west side, has been doing his best to lend more than an ear to the residents’ demands.

Two residents raised the issue of fire-rescue response on the county’s west side at a recent town hall meeting. “I found out we had no manned station up here when I went to a town hall meeting and someone brought it up,” said Pamela Andrews, who lives in Daytona North. “It’s like the west side of the county is like the black sheep. We shouldn’t be put on the back burner.”

It may not be for much longer.

The fire rescue chief and other county officials are developing a plan they expect will provide quicker response to the west side of Flagler County. “We’re talking about putting a unit on the west side and trying to bring down those response times,” Petito said. County officials are looking at re-deploying some firefighters to staff an existing fire station near County Road 305 and County Road 2006, which at one time was staffed with volunteer firefighters. However, the numbers of volunteer firefighters have declined.

“Volunteers nationally are dwindling,” Petito said. “Obviously, they have to work to make a living. Some work two or three jobs. The other thing is federal and state regulations on training hours. A lot of volunteers can’t meet the training mandates, or they meet the training but get hired by another (fire-rescue) organization.”

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey said the decrease in volunteer firefighters, leaving a station unstaffed, is one factor in the westside response times. The other factor is that the west side was growing, as the east side of the county was, before the recession that slowed growth everywhere. Coffey acknowledged that discussions are underway about renovating the existing fire station and reorganizing existing crews and equipment to staff the building.

“If we’re able to retrofit the existing site, we’re looking at $600,000 to $700,000 in capital expense,” Coffey said. “A new building would cost up to $1.7 million, depending on land. Operational expenses are what we’re really focused on. We’re going to be trying to shift people around without adding operational costs, namely manpower.” The county is aiming for the most cost-effect method that would still meet standards and improve existing service. The existing building being looked at for renovation and re-use has four vehicle bays.

“It’s a perfect location,” Coffey said. “It allows us to get into Daytona North and areas on the west side.”

Ambulance service might also be reorganized by putting an ambulance at the currently unstaffed westside fire station, Coffey said. Existing equipment would be redeployed to staff the unused volunteer station, he said. “We might be able to deploy reserve rigs out there and still meet all standards,” the manager said.

Flagler County’s Fire Rescue covers 485 square miles with 80 people, a fleet of 44 vehicles, including nine fire engines and 10 medical transport units. The department’s annual budget is $8 million.

The unstaffed volunteer station would be a perfect location and frugal solution, Andrews said. “It’s a perfectly fine station.”

Tanya Snyder, a St. Johns Park resident, spoke at a recent town hall meeting about the need to improve fire-rescue response times. “It’s important because we have so many residents out here,” she said. “We need the coverage.”

McLaughlin, who sponsored the town hall meetings, said county staff is putting together details of a proposal for the County Commission. “We’re really at the very early stages of working this problem,” he said. “For me, this being out in my district, this is one of the highest priorities. Across the county, everybody is concerned we have proper safety for all of our residents.”

Barbara Revels, another Flagler County Commissioner, said, “I know that it’s very needed in that community.” Elected leaders need to know whether existing staff and the unused building can be made to meet needs and what that cost would be, as opposed to contending with the cost of a new building and additional staff. The redeployment of staff to the existing building is the likely option. A clearer picture and recommendation is expected to be presented to County Commissioners in coming weeks.

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22 Responses for “Flagler’s West Side, Tired of Black Sheep Label, Wants Better Fire-Rescue Services”

  1. The Truth says:

    Unfortunately, when you are living in a much less populated area that is farther from the “city” these are the things you face. I’m sure those in power can look at if it would be cost effective to have a manned station in that party of the county, but this is something that would definitely fall in the “cons” category when deciding on where to live in the county.

  2. Stevie says:

    Maybe the county can get a grant. Or are grants just for sidewalks and not necessary things like water and EMS services. Maybe you can investigate that a nd report it back to us?

  3. glad fly says:

    I don’t live on the west side of the county. i live in the middle of town but i can almost guarantee you that the vast majority of rescue vehicles and personel are posted in the center and east of the county. The fact that somebody lives in the western part of the count doesn’t mean that that they deserve emergency services any less than the rest of the county.

  4. David R Campbell says:

    Finally!
    I am so thrilled to see that Flagler County has actually recognized that we here in Daytona North are ‘sitting ducks’ when it comes to fire protection!
    Last year (about this time) someone representing the Flagler County Fire Department stated-either here on Flagler Live or in the spastic local paper- that if they (FCFD) were called to a fire and the homeowner didn’t have a 30-50 foot fire mitigation area around the home they (FCFD) would simply let the structure burn to the ground! Because of that callus remark, I have spent the last year clearing underbrush and some wonderful trees from the area around my home.
    This doesn’t solve the problem at all.
    I moved here to avoid the situation that happened recently in Palm Coast, where a party was going strong at 2:30 AM and someone was shot!
    I wonder how many people here on Flagler Live actually SAW the picture presented along with the article.
    You’re looking at a duplex rental property! There is absolutely ZERO vegetation/landscaping around that duplex!
    That’s why I chose to live out here!
    Are there enough heads left to make an accurate count? I wonder, at times…
    My comments are directed mostly at people who make assine statements without thinking of what is going to happen *down the road*.
    Nate has done an extremely wonderful job of representing us out here and I hope that other commissioners will listen to him with regard to our area.
    Thank you, Flagler Live, for your local coverage!
    David

  5. Anon says:

    I bet that those residents pay the same millage rate in residential and commercial taxes as the rest of the county. We’re doing the best we can is hardly an adequate response.

    Isn’t this the same elected officials who approved the purchase of a broken down water utility?

  6. american says:

    To set the record strait, they have 3 staffed engines and 6 staffed transports. They can’t be spread any thinner. They need more firefighters to cover more area. Just as there are training levels that limit volunteers, there are staffing levels that limit what any firefighter can do once on scene. The Westside deserves protection not the appearance of protection. A paper tiger is just that! If a transport unit takes someone to the hospital, and its the only staffed unit, the Westside is again unprotected for the next 2 1/2 – 3 hours. That’s not protection. Don’t blow smoke up our butts.

  7. fact says:

    Why would you not station the guys that respond 90% of the time to this area closer? Seems like this should have been done a long time ago…. I know everyone is on hard times and trying to do their best but if we can better our service w/ a minimal price tag, why not!?!? After all you are talking about our lives and homes youre protecting!!

  8. FPCstudent says:

    What happened to the volunteers that staffed this station? I know the station had a chief and at least 2 volunteers that I can remember off of the top of my head

  9. m&m says:

    It seems to me for years the city of Palm Coast and the county have been trying to get the people out there to approve the roads to be paved. This would make it safer for school buses and safety vehicles to get there easier when it’s raining and conditions of narrow, dusty roads could be eliminated. When this was brought up at council meetings it met with out spoken rejections. Some of the comments were , we don’t want to be like Palm Coast that’s why we moved out here.. If that’s what they want why not let things be as they are???

  10. Jason says:

    Why is 92 called out for most calls when 51 is just in Espanola?

  11. David S. says:

    I feel sorry for the people on the west side of flagler county they deserve fire and rescue care just like the rest of the county. Its very hard to get volunteers to sign up with the training , responsibility,and other issues no one has the time to do this. I know first hand I was a vol ff in maryland and in one year I ran just as many calls as flagler county dispatches for an entire year and I did this for more than 10 years. Please give these guys and girls all the credit in the world they deserve it.

  12. blacksheep says:

    Nate has being doing his best and busting his butt to help the west side of the county. Yes, we have to fight to get anything done out here, and we will keep fighting!
    We do and have for years been paying for these services in our taxes, regardless of what others might think. And we need and deserve the same protection as the rest of the county.
    And yes, there are grants for services like this, the county has to put in the applications for the grants.
    At one time, we had the BEST volunteered station around. But, now we need to focus on the present, which is getting it manned for out protection.

  13. blacksheep says:

    m&m, paving the roads out here has NOTHING to do with fire and rescue services. When you need an ambulance, would you like to wait 20 or 30 mins. for them to get to you or one of your loved ones? I don’t think so.

  14. Gia says:

    If you leave outside of the city do not expect to get services from cities because you don’t pay taxes to the cities. You knew it before You pay for what you get.

  15. Westside says:

    If they hired the volunteers that were there they wouldn’t have a problem

  16. Westside Home Owner says:

    I think there is a valuable point being missed here. We are not just talking about emergency medical services. Most of the homes in this part of Flagler County are manufactured mobile homes. It takes less than 5mins for them to burn to the ground. Also take in to consideration everyone out here are on wells and if there is no electricity there is no water. I really don’t think anyone here would accept “we are doing the best we can” if it was there home and lively hood in jeopardy.
    Thank you Mr. McLaughlin for all your hard work and persistence.

  17. mellissa says:

    Its a great idea and well needed, but the next issue is having enough VOLUNTEERS, you do not see alot of those around anymore, people need to be paid. They will take a paying job before volunteering

    • Anonymous says:

      Why would volunteers that want to volunter still not be able to voluntee to reduce the amount of any paid staff that would have to be hired to save some tax money? This area seemed to have mananged with volunteers for far too long to now to be told there is no one interested in volunteering. I heard the volunteers were told they were no longer needed, and the county was going to hire paid positions. Who’s friend needs a job? This side of the county should not be in this situation. This is terrible, and there is NO excuse for it!

  18. fpcfreshman says:

    i have made an emergency call from the fair grounds. In the time it took 92 to come from the airport and the rescue which was a half mile away at 51, they ended up getting there at the same time.

    • Anonymous says:

      The engine could have been somewhere other than at the airport, and actually closer to the fairgrounds than you realize. They could have also been finishing up a call in Bunnell where they also respond to medical calls.

  19. WestResident says:

    Station 71 has one volunteer. There ARE people who WANT to volunteer for the county to staff station 71, but the county has run their volunteers out. It takes 92 a long 20 minutes to make it to a call out in the west side. Bunnell usually makes it there in about 10, even though they are staffed nearly 24/7 they are all volunteer and do not run medical calls. The county is in a bind with money and hiring more to staff another station out there is expensive. The better idea is to actually have the county treat some volunteers right or Bunnell to hire a crew and cut down the responce times. And FPC student, you’re mistaken, 51 has a Rescue, Engine and Attack truck, but they only can run one at a time with a crew of 2 people.

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