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Flagler Beach Bats Down Fire Department Consolidation, Agreeing Only to Ask Questions

| May 9, 2013

Its viability and future questioned by a commissioner, the Flagler Beach Fire Department brought ut its troops for Thursday's meeting of the Flagler Beach City Commission. (c FlaglerLive)

Its viability and future questioned by a commissioner, the Flagler Beach Fire Department brought ut its troops for Thursday’s meeting of the Flagler Beach City Commission. (c FlaglerLive)

Thursday morning, the Flagler County School Board broached a subject it never imagined it would in the foreseeable future: the closing and consolidation of some of its schools. But declining enrollment and tighter budgets is now making that more than a probability.

Thursday evening, the Flagler Beach City Commission heard a subject it has been doing its best over the years to deflect, muffle or vote down: the consolidation of its $600,000 fire department with Flagler County Fire Rescue. Flagler Beach City Commissioner Kim Carney, after struggling to so much as get the matter on a meeting agenda, brought the matter to the fore, arguing that the city is no longer in a position to continually pay for a fire department of its own.

Carney was looking for the city to more formally analyze the economics of consolidation, chiefly by putting out a request for information (RFI)–that is, sending City Manger Bruce Campbell and Acting Fire Chief Bobby Pace to the county to “look at money saving ideas and savings” that may be turned over to the city, along with a better insurance rating for the city’s fire coverage. She wanted formal talks.

Her proposal fell flat. Literally: when she made the motion, she got no second. Commission Chairman Steve Settle, and commissioners Joy McGrew and Marshall Shupe—the latter a volunteer fireman immersed in the city’s fire department—were opposed, outright, to negotiations with the county, or to talks of consolidation. They were not opposed to asking questions, however, though McGrew made clear why: politically, it was “political suicide” to look like she wasn’t interested in exploring options.

Th trio was bailed out by a motion by Jane Mealy: each commissioner would get to submit any question he or she wants to ask about fire issues. The questions would be submitted to Campbell. Campbell would answer them, after researching and investigating them with full discretion as to how—including meeting with the county administrator and fire chief, if necessary. But Campbell would not have the authority to negotiate any deals.

That motion passed unanimously, with Carney making clear that her questions would require meetings with the county. (The questions have to be turned in by the next commission meeting in two weeks. It’s not clear when the answers are due.)

In essence, however, Carney’s original idea, while not having the city commission’s full backing, can now be carried out all the same: she wanted the city manager to meet with county officials and answer her questions. She’ll have that request satisfied, allowing her at least to build more momentum for her longer-termed aims: the more verified information she gathers-if that information supports her premise that the city could save a lot by consolidating–the more pressure will build on the city to act on it, assuming that carrying on with business as usual is untenable. But politics as much as fact will likely shape that assumption.

By Carney’s calculations, consolidation with the county has been estimated to save $200,000 merely in personnel costs, though capital savings would be greater: the city’s equipment is aging, and replacement would be costly. Breathing and communications equipment alone would cost the city a quarter of a million dollars to be in compliance. The city has a 26-year-old ladder truck that has exceeded its normal life, and would cost well over $500,000 to replace. A fire engine is 17 years old, and other equipment is getting old. combined capital costs add up to over $1.1 million, Carney says. Carney also argues that the city is duplicating services while residents are being double-taxed. And the city’s insurance service office rating (ISO) is the worst in the county, which harms home insurance rates–and could conversely be lowered if the city were to be served by the county, which has a better ISO rating.

Carney, whose numbers would be subsequently and repeatedly questioned, also noted that medical calls account for 90 percent of all emergency calls, and those are handled by the county’s fire rescue unit, which is stationed at Flagler Beach’s station.

“I don’t know that I’m right, I don’t know that I’m confused, I don’t know what I don’t know,” Carney said. “This action is not punitive. Our city manager has gone through a very difficult time, and this is the reason I took this agenda item.” Carney said the city manager—Bruce Campbell—could have gone out on his own to explore the issue. But she wants the commission to give him direction to do so, giving the initiative the imprint of the commission’s—therefore constituents’–legitimacy.

“I feel it’s time for us to sit down and at least entertain a discussion with Don Petito and Craig Coffey over at the county,” Carney said, referring to the county fire chief and the county administrator, and analyze whether there are duplicated services that could be more efficiently provided.

When the commission opened the floor to the public, 13 people spoke—four in favor of Carney’s proposal (or a version of it), seven opposed (including four members of the Flagler Beach Fire Department, among them Acting Fire Chief Bobby Pace), and two who didn’t so much take a position as asked questions and urged the commission to do the right thing.

“You are here to give the best service that Flagler Beach residents can get at the best cost,” resident Jackie Mulligan said, defining Carney’s proposal as the sort of things any local government should do—reexamine costs and find ways to better provide services, more efficiently.

The room was almost full, with most seats taken, but not nearly as full as it has been on various issues in the last couple of years when other controversial issues were in play—the noise ordinance, bonfires on the beach, surfers near the pier, the hiring of the city manager, and so on.

Andy Thomas, a four-year volunteer fireman with the department, referred to Carney’s presentation and said that “a few of the figures we saw today were inaccurate.” For example, medical calls are “at most” 80 percent of emergency calls, rather than 90. “Flagler Beach is different from Bunnel, it’s different from Palm Coast,” he said, with some of its fire department personnel specializing in ocean rescue, something the county may not be able to provide.

But that claim may itself not be entirely accurate. Seventeen Flagler County Fire Rescue firefighters are certified in ocean rescue, with the county currently running classes to certify six more. Several members of the Flagler Beach fire department have applied to take the certification course. The county administration, aware of Flagler Beach’s discussion, today shrewdly issued a press release on its firefighters’ certifications, noting that those credentials are “in addition to the fact that Flagler County’s Fire/Rescue members are dual certified as fire fighters and paramedics.” The press release included a quote from Coffey, the county administrator, commending firefighters—and sending a subtle message to the Flagler Beach City Commission.

One of the Flagler Beach firefighters alluded to the department’s recent scandals: “Sometimes you’ve got to take out the trash, and when you take out the trash you see diamonds in the rough,” Clint Dixon said. He pointed to his colleagues as the diamonds in the rough.

Art Woosley, for over 30 years a member of the Miami-Dade Fire Department and a long-time advocate of consolidation, said: “We have to look at this in a common sense manner, and Ms. Carney spoke to the point, this is about money,” and it would provide “a higher level of competence,” with the county having 95 percent of its units covered by paramedics, a claim the city cannot make. “That means the public is much better protected. This is about the health and benefit of the public.” He cited some 25 small communities in South Florida that merged with Miami-Dade’s fire rescue department for the same reason.

Bobby Pace the acting chief, summed up his ranks’ position: “It’s the passion that we share in the department that I think leads them to say the things that are on their mind,” he said, noting that a “cost-saving report” would be provided the commission soon. He pointed to the group of fire fighters filling three rows of chairs on one side of the room, saying just four are paid firefighters. The rest are volunteers. “The equipment that we have, granted, it could be considered old,” he said, but the ladder truck, for example, had only 14,000 miles when the city acquired it, even though it was old. “The county is not know to typical cater to volunteers. They’re the backbone of our operation,” he said.

City Commission Chairman Steve Settle said it would be premature to bring in the county. It’s the city manager’s place for now to figure out the budget picture and submit it to the commission.

“To me a fire department is a whole lot more than just money,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said, suggesting that she, too, would be opposed to any consolidation. But she was willing to ask the county questions. That’s when she proposed the idea that eventually carried the night.

Joy McGrew said she was unhappily feeling like she’d been cornered. “It’s not broke,” she said, and needn’t be messed with, but “I’m not in favor of doing anything with the fire department except to allow it to grow and be and exist” in the community. Despite calling it “political suicide,” she said she was opposed to entering in discussions with the county. “If we sign up for it, how do we control it?” she asked, going as far as saying that she was willing to pay more money.

Mayor Linda Provencher, who does not vote on city motions (but can veto them) felt cornered, too, but from a different angle: she said there has been interest to consolidate, but she also said that the county would likely charge the city more to provide services—eventually. Even so, she said, “we need to send Bruce, Bobby, whomever, over there to find out,” Provencher said.

Carney wanted to bring up the matter two weeks ago. She placed it on the agenda. City Manager Bruce Campbell pulled it. By charter, he has the authority to do so, though the charter specifies that agenda items may be pulled over timing–not political–issues: if the manager deems an item will too unreasonably lengthen a meeting, he may pull it. Two weeks ago the meeting was not particularly long. But Campbell had also favored discussing the matter during a budget workshop. In the end, Carney said she would place it on the agenda again and insisted that it remain there. It has.

Carney had begun her presentation on a personal note. On Aug. 12, 2000, her brother went to a concert in a city in Massachusetts. There, he collapsed and died. There were no emergency services at the ready. As a result of his and another death at the same facility, the city that was issuing event permits looked at its process, and as a result two ambulances, defibrillators and other medical equipment were added to the events. Carney’s point: with time, “things change,” and, she added, she has “a personal interest in EMS.”

At the very end of the meeting, long after the matter had been left behind, McGrew returned to it briefly, addressing residents (though the room itself had emptied of all but 11 people): “Please let us as commissioners know how you feel about the fire department, the police department, the upcoming budget,” McGrew said. “Voice your opinion or voice your support or whatever.”

“I’m going before the fight starts,” Alice Baker, the former Flagler Beach mayor, said as she walked out, after attending a few proclamations at the beginning of the meeting. As it turned out, it was a muted fight, with more smoke than fire.

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18 Responses for “Flagler Beach Bats Down Fire Department Consolidation, Agreeing Only to Ask Questions”

  1. RG says:

    I say hire an independant accountant and figure out the cost to provide adequate Fire and Ems. That includes equipment With up to date apparatus not antique. And administrative costs, then you will have the set up that is the standard now not Old Flager Beach Fire Dept. Everyone is not seeing the elephant in the fire stall. Dont let your pride and nostalgia cloud your reasoning.

    Flagler City officials and citizens would do themselfs a favor by talking to fire officials and viewing their equipment at the county and Palm Coast. This will help you understand the differences good or bad.

    The times are a changing your gonna pay more either way you go. The real question is convincing The County to take over and provide service cause they will really be doing Flagler beach City a big favor by doing so. Ive seen this change in other Volunteer Fire Departments to paid Departments and it works well. Volunteers can still volunteer and have more opportunity to become paid employees. These wishes can be negotiated into contracts so qualified volunteers are absorbed into paid positions. And paid Flagler beach fire personnel are hired when A new entity takes over.

  2. Rick Belhumeur says:

    That’s what I was looking for. It was to get the facts so that everyone can hopefully make informed intelligent decisions unlike what the commission did tonight by giving Flagler Beach staff the direction to nearly double the cost of pier insurance with very little information or discussion. I would remind our Commissioners again that the City’s charter has given them enormous power to make decisions and to please use that power intelligently because decisions made today could affect every Flagler Beach resident until the end of mankind.

  3. Tax Payer says:

    Is this not double taxation? Do not stop with the fire dept. Have the S.0. Take over the law enforcement also. The Sheriffs Office would do a much better job. Any time a crime happens Chief Cody has a outside agency come into the city to help out his inept dept.

  4. tax payer says:

    Marshall Shupe—the latter a volunteer fireman immersed in the city’s fire department— opposed ,,haha really you don’t say, again “Conflict of interest” this is a joke. What have someone else that has everything to loose the Acting Chief with felony charges pending for behavior at the Fire department go get ideas form the county ,, at best he has the experience to be a probationary firefighter somewhere and this is who the commission and city manager listen to,, what a joke get over your egos and do the right thing for us the residents why not provide a higher level of service at a cost savings.

  5. curious says:

    AT MOST 80% are medical calls? Id like to see the math on that! Even if that number was accurate its still the majority of your calls, so are you saying consolidate?

  6. Roy Longo says:

    To all my Brothers and Sisters of the Flagler County Fire Rescue and Flagler Beach Fire Department, I am asking that we all refrain from the back and forth mud slinging that always occurs during these articles. Let us all act in the professional manner that we do when we are on actual calls. If you want to vent please call me.

    • David R Campbell says:

      You, Sir, are the epitome of what we need around the table.
      All it would take in any situation is for someone with your reasoning to say “Stop haggling amongst yourselves and use the brain(s) that you have been endowed with-and you have done just that.
      In regard to those who would deny that Flagler County could/would supply a better support to the City of Flagler Beach than their city already supplies, I ask this question: If Flagler Beach needs to fall under the protective umbrella of Flagler County EMS (etc) then it seems to me that Flagler County itself needs to fall under the protective umbrella of Volusia County EMS. Just think for a moment…
      Emergencies do not just happen during a certain time period-it’s a 24/7 thing. If one needs to be transported faster than a land vehicle during the evening and overnight hours in Flagler County-“take a seat and we will be with you shortly”.
      Who comes to the rescue? Volusia County!
      My point is this: actually, Ray already said it best. “…Let us all act in the professional manner that we do when we are on actual calls.”
      ()

  7. Anonymous says:

    i live in PC and wish our City would at least look into the posible cost savings to us by joining services with the County. To those in Flagler Beach use you VOTE to make the powers that are in charge see it your way. What erver that may be.

  8. Sherry Epley says:

    Living in Flagler Beach, in a flood zone, near the ocean already means our home insurance rates are sky high. I would like to know the impact on those insurance rates, if we turn over control of our fire safety to the county.

    Our situation “on a barrier island, at the beach” is a bit different than the main land. In addition to being separated by the bottle neck of a bridge, we are subject to higher risks in case of hurricane. Our unique requirements, in such an emergency, should certainly be taken into consideration.

    I have already read many stories about problems with the county’s fire services being stretched to the limit.
    How can we heap more responsibility on them and expect a higher quality of service for Flagler Beach?

    Costs are costs. . . surely the county does not have some sort of magic way of hiring true professionals and buying the required equipment at a lower cost. We will all be required to pay for those services either way.

    My concern is about control and culture. . . in addition to costs. Are we really willing to give up control of such vital services and the cultural pride of community volunteering just to save what will probably end up being just a few bucks (less than $25?) per year, per family? The culture of small towns is not destroyed by one massive blow. . . villages are turned in “suburbs” little by little with such eroding decisions. Do we want Flagler Beach to remain one of the few unique, independent seaside towns in Florida, where every citizen has a right to speak out a city commission meetings. . . and where WE are in control of our vital services? Or shall we just blend in with the county and state and stop trying to be so darned wonderful?

  9. Deep South says:

    I do not think this decision can be made on the level of a city commissioner, who I feel is not qualified to make a important decision of on the health and safety of it’s residence without sufficient data. They need to consult a outside accounting firm on the cost factors, and an independent health and medical firm who specializes in heath and public safety. This decision is way to complicated for a small town city commissioner to handle.

  10. Anonymous says:

    To everyone who thinks the city will save money well maybe a little in the beginning but what happens 3 years down the road when the contract is up and the county wants to up the costs? Look at it like a cable bill or something does your cable tv bill stay the same since the day you signed up for it? i know mine doesnt. What I’m trying to figure out is what happend to the sunshine state law and how did kim carney go upon getting this information? Did she already go and talk to county officials without approval? Not to mention almost all her numbers she threw out their were all inaccurate and wrong!!! For the other commssioners and mayor good job on not seconding her motion!!! Citizens of Flagler beach it might sound good in the beginning but future might end up hurting the city. Their are plenty of other ways to save money besides taking out the whole fire dept once it’s gone it’s gone. What about the police depts $1,000,000 budget? And their new vehicles they get and what not? All I’m trying to say is think about it Flagler beach commssioners and manager don’t buy into it which it sounds like you won’t!!good job again last night commssioners mayor and Mr. Campbell!!

  11. Louise Vos says:

    I agree with Kim Carney about the fire dept. The residents of Flagler Beach need to see the statistics
    and the funding in order to decide on the outcome. It surprises me that the other commissioners disagreed
    with her. It seems that all they do is agree to disagree. Perhaps fresh blood is needed. One other
    comment, the town looks beautiful with it’s new pavers etc but what about those of us that live
    south of south 9th street? I love this town and would like to see us united and no divided. Commissioners
    agree on something.

  12. Kim Carney says:

    I’m not sure if there is more than one Anonymous but to address the post on May 10 at 2:50 pm, what is your understanding of the Sunshine Law? I can talk to anyone I want at anytime, except for the people sitting on the same board and who will be making decisions about issues that may require a vote. I have a lot of knowledge about EMS and Fire. I have a duty to do research. ALL the NFPA and OSHA standards can be found on the internet and in published books used by all Fire and Rescue services. As well, all Fire and Rescue reports are public record. Our own Fire Department provides a weekly report the City Manager. Calculating percentages is not advanced manth. None of my numbers are incorrect. If you would like to contact me directly I will be happy to go over the numbers with you. My email is kimcarney@cfl.rr.com. My cell phone number is published on the City of Flagler Beach website. The age of our Fire Department apparatus and equipment is correct, the ISO ratings are accurate, the estimated costs to replace the aging equipment is conservative low at best. My presentation was designed to find out more information. The words “take over”, “merger”, “closing” were never used. So many assumptions with so many emotions. I had no idea there is so much rivalry between fire fighters and neighboring departments. The Commission took a 5-0 vote to do more research by asking questions. That’s all I was asking for.

  13. Jackie Mulligan says:

    Thank you Kim for your clarification, I was at the meeting and heard what you asked for, and responded in kind.

    All I heard you ask for, and show with your very professional power point presentation,was to approve someone to check out other cost saving and more efficient ways of providing this service.AND all I expect from my Commissioners is to check facts and pursue the best and most cost efficient way of providing services to this community sounds simple right??? That is their job! it’s not about staff,or personalities, it’s the job that they were elected to do.

    Well if you were at the meeting, you wouldn’t think it was simple, other Commissioners found more reasons not to do it than to just vote and find out.Go figure??
    I said that this is what they should be doing with all departments at budget time NO?what do you think budgeting is about????
    Jane Mealy, worked for a union as a Rep of the teachers.. I am sure she was very good at her job, well Jane WE the taxpayers. are now who you are working for . Represent the people of Flagler Beach with your decisions .Marshall Shupe, please try to be a little objective, I know your relationship as a volunteer makes it difficult to not identify with the personnel BUT TRY, And Joy ,please don’t keep saying it isn’t broken, it is and has been for a long time,talk to some of the people in town who have served over the years.And last but not least,Chairman Settle, I could not understand where you were coming from at all???When do you think the budget process starts, when do you think you start gathering information,?? It’s never too early for new cost saving to be gathered.A budget is not just a Manager’s job, you were elected to the task.
    And why would these cost saving measures not be done with all departments every year???
    I remember when a Finance director came up with a cost saving to her dept, we all applauded her,so what’s the difference now???
    When I was a Commissioner between 1992-1994, we came up with a plan to save the city $250,000, by having our dispatching done by the county,Yes we did and the county has been doing a fine job ever since. And all the people who thought the sky would fall(Henny Penny) did not have it happen.It was a very seamless transition and nothing bad happened. We did our job and saved the taxpayers quite a bit of money, and provided quicker more efficient service.
    Please people stop the nonsense, who would not want better more qualified people doing the job??
    Jane Mentioned at the meeting it is about more than money?? Is it about having Less qualified or more qualified ???is that going to be part of the equation??
    And I will close with this, One of the people who work at the F.D got up and . said he drives 78 miles one way to come to work and he could be working and making double the salary he is making here, what is that about, he certainly did not impress me.
    Please call your Commissioners and tell them how you feel about this and all other issues.
    Thank you, and sorry for being so long winded .
    Jackie Mulligan

  14. The Professor says:

    Kim your numbers were very inaccurate. NFPA are “Guidelines” not mandated requirements. You say you have a lot of knowledge about Fire and EMS but I do recall a couple of months ago you wanted firefighters to jump in the back of the ambulance on medical calls in order to save fuel. And I know for a FACT that you were speaking to Flagler County fire Chiefs two of them to get your PowerPoint.

    • curious says:

      Well if her numbers are wrong, which they may be… Why dont we still ask questions and keep an open mind? (Politicians are as full of crap as they come! And in this scenario I KNOW they are) I think alot of people are fighting this because they dont want “consolidation” or how ever you want to say it and not considering ALL the factors involved! Who cares if these people on the “line” get along or not?!?! If for the same amount of money i can get better service, im in!! This isnt rocket science people!! Lets all keep open minds about the topic, ask questions and attend meetings and at the end of that form an opinion…

  15. Beach Walker says:

    This is one big food fight that misses the point, ISO short for International Standards Organization has rated the Flagler Beach F.D. TWO points higher than Flagler County. Those two points are raising the rates charged to Flagler Beach BUSINESSES and some homeowners as not all residential companies use ISO. Check out ISO for yourselves they are the Big Dog in many areas not just insurance. This is why under writers and risk managers rely on them as they have extensive knowledge in evaluating data to produce standards that mirror actual conditions as best possible.
    If Mealy, Settle, McGrew and “Volunteer” Supe think they know better than ISO don’t complain when the Beverly folks are paying less.
    Mealy was right to confront Settle on his interpretation of the Commissioners Cup Sunshine Law screw up, but when she shortly learned of the error she did nothing to find a solution [have Campbell notice the judging]. Then McGrew announces at the CC Meeting that she has not heard from any member of the Public about the FD. problems, but fails to mention she has NEVER had a listed Email on the City website. Our man Shupe can not see a conflict of interest when he is a member of the FD. that gets a pension !
    Now I ask Flagler Beach who do you want to answer the phone at THREE AM ? For me it will be the same guys that were FIRST at the Flagler Beach high rise south fire a few years back…the County.

    • FB Insider says:

      I 100% agree with the comment about Shupe. How this is not a conflict of interest is beyond me. However, I am a little curious; which “high rise south fire a few years back” are you referring to?

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