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“Fiercely Independent” Flagler Beach Says No to County Fire Services and $100,000 Savings

| July 2, 2013

Flagler Beach City Commissioner Marshall Shupe isn't in the driver's seat for nothing. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler Beach City Commissioner Marshall Shupe isn’t in the driver’s seat for nothing. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 4:19 p.m.

Flagler County is ready to take over the Flagler Beach Fire Department, provide a higher level of service that would vastly improve the city’s fire insurance rating and lower property insurance rates, and net the city a $100,000 annual saving, not counting bigger savings when it comes time to pay for a new fire truck or other equipment.

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Flagler Beach, however, is not interested. Not now. To hear Flagler Beach Commission Chairman Steve Settle, maybe not ever.

“The people I’ve talked to in Flagler Beach look at me and say, can you imagine Flagler Beach without its fire department? It’s been there since the beginning. How can we look at ourselves, how can we live with ourselves?” Settle told Flagler County commissioners during a meeting Monday on the county and city options regarding the fire department. “We’re going to retain our independence no matter what, and we’re going to vow that any changes in Flagler Beach are going to be ones that people in Flagler Beach approve.”

Settle’s defensiveness may be unnecessary. County commissioners strained to assure Flagler Beach that there’s no coup in the works. They have no interest in taking over the city’s services—unless asked. They made clear that they are willing to discuss consolidation, but only within parameters set by Flagler Beach.

“The ball is in your court to ask us what you need of us,”  County Chairman Nate McLaughlin said.

Settle also conveyed to commissioners that his commission had actually made the decision not to go with any county plans at this time. “At our last budget workshop a week and a half ago we decided at this particular time we’re not going to go forward with asking for this help,” he said. But no such decision has formally been reached by Flagler Beach, and no such decision was reached during the workshop. Commissioners were in agreement to go with a new administrative plan for the fire department, which would eliminate the chief’s and assistant chief’s positions, and gave that nod during the workshop. But that was not equated with a rejection of the larger policy issue, at least not on the record.

Flagler Beach commissioners were interested in formally asking the county questions, and did, in what resulted in some 25 pages of answers that ranged from broad policy matters to specific requirements to be a fire chief, what rules control volunteer firefighters, and what it would take to bring Flagler Beach’s so-called ISO rating (the acronym stands for Insurance Service Office) down from its elevated 5. The county’s rating is a 3. The lower the rating, the better. The answer: better water availability and more training help. (See all the questions and answers below.)

The questions are telling as much for their candid answers as for the authors of the questions, as the tone and purpose of many questions reveal commissioners’ anxieties, interests and assumptions. The questions were prompted by Flagler Beach Commissioner Kim Carney’s interest in exploring consolidation. But Carney’s efforts have been blunted by a commission less interested in going that route, with Commissioner Marshall Shupe leading the charge against consolidation. Shupe is ostensibly a volunteer firefighter, but that’s in name only: he is the city’s fire marshal, he helps the fire police, and he is a solid presence at the city’s fire house. The commission has never questioned the conflicts.

“That’s why I’m kind of wondering why we’re going to go through this act of futility here,” McLaughlin said Monday at the beginning of what would turn into a 40minute discussion. “They’ve pretty much decided they’re going to hold their own and continue on the way they’re going, with minor adjustments. Why are we spending any time on it?”

Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

County Administrator Craig Coffey referred to the formal questions, which have kept discussions alive and provided a more factual framework to the issue than previously available.

And it wasn’t quite futility, since the Flagler Beach commission hadn’t yet received the answers to the questions its members posed the county. That Q&A is still up for discussion once commissioners do get their answers.

“What we want to do is be able to offer assistance regardless of any outcome whether they want to join or not,” Coffey said. “I don’t know that we had the best relationship with the former chief. I think there was animosity there. I think we can do a lot better as far as closing that gap and helping them. And if they choose to join with us, we believe we can offer some major tangible and non-tangible benefits—a lot more than monetary, but increased response and all that kind of stuff.”

Significant distinctions between county and Flagler Beach services: the county’s paramedic crews provide advanced life support (ALS). Flagler Beach may provide only basic life support (BLS). The crude difference is that ALS crews can puncture a patient’s skin with syringes, BLS teams may not. The county also has a more advanced marine rescue unit, and provides advanced and various training.

Coffey submitted three options, including one that would dissolve the fire department and have Flagler Beach covered by county services without improvements—an option no one considers viable.

The option the county administration favors most from an organizational perspective is to take over the department, its facilities, equipment and staff. The county would maintain the higher level of service in place now, and but all necessary equipment in the future, assuming all liabilities. The annual cost to the city: $475,000. That compares with a current cost of $600,000.

Another option would entail the county absorbing the day-to-day operations of the fire department, but Flagler Beach would keep ownership of its facilities, fire trucks and other equipment. The annual cost to Flagler Beach: $469,000, for an annual saving of a little over $130,000.

Yet another option would lower the level of service somewhat, providing a dedicated advanced life support ambulance to the city but having a fire engine assigned to the barrier island as a whole, without guaranteed permanent coverage in the city. The city’s cost under that scenario would be $342,500 a year, saving the city $260,000 a year.

“The fear is,” Coffey said, “that they’ll get the service and they’ll charge us through the nose after that. The reality is, what you’re trying to do is offer some type of commitment to a price, and part of the cost of working together, consolidation, means we have to take some on the chin but not too much, so there’s a balance there. The question is, you’d always put some kind of cost of living adjustment along the way, or if gas went to $6 a gallon or something like that, for the higher level of service, they’d be paying it whether their fire department was in there or we were doing that same service.”

County Commissioner Barbara Revels summed up the commission’s impressions on the issue. “Coming from Flagler Beach I have two legs in this,” she said. “I want to represent my city and at the same time, county-wide. I would love to see us have Flagler County Fire fighting there because of the higher level of service, maybe a lower ISO rating, and hopefully lower the budget of Flagler Beach. But I understand what I have heard from Commissioner [Marshal] Shupe and others about—what if we aren’t happy, how do we recreate a division again? How do we go out and get that equipment? So I’m in favor of any one of these options that the city likes, if it were to ever happen.”

Steve Settle (© FlaglerLive)

Steve Settle (© FlaglerLive)

It was at the end of the discussion that Settle was invited to speak. “The opinion of Flagler Beach is there’s never anything wrong with getting facts,” he said.

“That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get facts. There’s never anything wrong with working with the county. We’ve always tried to do that in Flagler Beach, work closely to improve the way we do things and cut taxes when we possibly can so we’ll continue to do that. We will take a look at the options. We’ll probably come up with a couple of our own options, including passing at this time.”

Flagler Beach, Settle said, is “fiercely independent,” and would be retaining that independence regardless.

Note: the Q&A below is the final version the county sent to Flagler Beach, readied July 5; a previous edition posted here had been an unfinished draft.

Flagler Beach Fire Department Options Q&A, Final Report

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18 Responses for ““Fiercely Independent” Flagler Beach Says No to County Fire Services and $100,000 Savings”

  1. Flagler Citizen says:

    “and $100,000 savings”. Yeah, and I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you!

  2. Rick Belhumeur says:

    “We decided at this particular time we’re not going to go forward with asking for this help” said Steve Settle to the County Commission. Who does he mean by “we”? We, meaning the entire city of Flagler Beach? We, meaning the City Commission? Or we, meaning himself? I believe he meant the City Commission, but how can he speak for the entire group of Commissioners? That Commission voted unanimously to ask pointed questions so that an informed decision about how to move forward with the Fire Department could be made by both the public and the Commission. NONE of the City Commissioners knew the answers to all of the questions and neither did the taxpayers of Flagler Beach before Steve Settle stood before a County Commission and said never mind. That was not an informed decision as promised. He is supposed to represent the Flagler Beach taxpayer and couldn’t possibly know how they would react to questions and answers that were never presented to them.

  3. John Smith says:

    Well this is typical FB. What I see here is a obvious SUNSHINE LAW VIOLATION by Settles and Shupe doing city business out of city hall at the county. Both men were speaking and representing the city for the bennifit of the FD which Shupe is a member. Can you say CONFLICT of INTEREST.


    Maybe something is wrong with the drinking water out in the county ? Turn over our Fire Dept. for a measly hundred grand, please somebody tell us they are not serious ?

    After all, when the time comes that the city can no longer afford the dept. it could just close the doors at the station on Monday morning. The county would then be mandated to provide adequate coverage to protect heath, safety, and properties, of this barrier island. Remember also the residents of F.B. have already been paying for two departments for decades now, therefore they the residents, should fully expect the county to pick up the entire six hundred grand tab.

    In other words Mr.Coffey et al, ( make us an offer we can’t refuse ), if you are indeed serious remove the entire item from our budget, and pass the cost on to all county tax payers, the same as you do with your other county stations. If the county took it over, and one single dime remained in our budget, within five years we could be paying more than we currently do, and we will no longer have control of the department. Please sir, with all due respect, many of us did not just fall from the cabbage truck, uh, sorry, I meant the potato truck.

  5. Doug says:

    I’m new to Flagler Beach and love it.
    IMHO I think I would prefer the county take over the fire dept. if just for the ALS (advanced life support). I feel the savings and advantages as presented in the article are preferable to parking meters on the beach.
    I sympathize with the emotions of the fire department and respectfully suggest that they should not take a relationship with the county personally, if that’s possible.

  6. elaygee says:

    Each town and city having its own police and fire departments is a relic of days gone by. Makes no sense and costs way more than consolidated services. It’s fear of “losing control” and the ability to manipulate and use those departments for their own benefit that keeps the staus quo.

  7. FB Insider says:

    After reading all 47 pages, I shake my head at the backwards thinking that is occurring in Flagler Beach. You have the opportunity to increase staffing, with higher trainer individuals with newer equipment for LESS MONEY and you turn it down? So, let’s continue forward with a sub-par medically trained group of firefighters (comparatively speaking with the County) with NO CHIEF for leadership and an aging fleet.

    Wow . . . wake up Flagler Beach. These people are continuing to spend your tax dollars on an out-dated fire department with no leadership. Remember: next time you hear a siren remember, you could have better.

  8. Roy Johnson says:

    I’m a volunteer FF/EMT at the beach and have been for about five years. I also live in Flagler Beach. I just want to make a couple of points, the way I see things:

    1. Commissioner Shupe having a conflict of interest to me is silly. By definition, because of his “interest” (service, volunteer hours, experience, first hand knowledge, etc.) he is by far more knowledgeable than any of his fellow commissioners on the topic. So why in the world would you not want him being a leader on this issue? The only conflict that exists is that his first hand knowledge, his informed and educated views, are just that. He obviously thinks it would not be in our city’s best interest to do this. Do we only want the commissioners with limited and cursory knowledge of the topic to be involved, should the one who knows the least be leading the pack? We don’t want to listen to him because he is so close to the topic at hand? I wish all of our commissioners were volunteers at the department and had first hand knowledge as well. Why would anyone be against this? It’s a huge asset to our city to have informed leaders wherever possible.

    2. Reference #1, if the concern is that of his character or inability to govern based on the will of those that elected him, it is easy to remedy. That’s what elections are for. The interesting thing to me is that all commissioners quoted throughout this debacle, with the exception of the lone proponent, have stated over and over that the residents here have told them they don’t want consolidation. Over and over they have said it but we still straw-man this guy implying his involvement with the department is somehow the reason consolidation is being avoided. The people contacting their commissioners are telling them they don’t want this. If that’s not true, what is their motive to keep the department? If everyone were screaming at them for this to happen I doubt they would be taking the position they have. It wouldn’t make any sense.

    3. Having a city costs extra money. If the only goal here is to save money than the only logical end to that line of thought is to eliminate the city as an entity all together. Why duplicate commissioners, sanitation, clerks, administrative staff, police, on and on. The reason you duplicate all that stuff is because the people that live here have more control of their services. They have a louder voice, they have a commission that is more accountable to each resident.

    4. If it’s about “improved services” then pay attention to the article. The ISO rating is dominated by water supply which is a city infrastructure issue and has nothing to do with the department. The county coming in will not give us more hydrants or bigger water mains. The other issue there is not training, it’s “training records”. These records were not maintained in past years and the training was not formalized in the form of department policy. That in NO WAY means that our department does not train constantly and does not perform to the same standards of any other agency in Florida.

    5. ALS – this one is simple. There are already two certified FF/Paramedics working full-time at the beach with a third not far from certification. With that third member certified, we would be staffed to run an ALS engine.

    Our fire engine is not “ALS” and therefore our paramedics do not have the tools required to provide Advanced Life Support, it’s not because they don’t have the skill or knowledge. The crazy thing about this is that under the County’s proposal the engine at the beach would still be a BLS engine. Those firefighters on that truck, county logo or Flagler Beach logo, can do no more for you than can be done today if that Rescue is not with them. Our paramedics assist as paramedics when the rescue is here and that is EXACTLY the same thing that would happen if consolidation occurs.

    The only way to get this extra service is to spend the money needed to put ALS equipment on that apparatus. Then and ONLY then would having paramedics on that truck make any difference at all should the rescue be delayed. And that will cost $$$ whether the county upgrades that equipment and truck or the City does.

    • FB Insider says:

      “Our paramedics assist as paramedics when the rescue is here and that is EXACTLY the same thing that would happen if consolidation occurs. ”

      I wonder if Dr. Coleman knows your “Paramedics” are assisting as Paramedics when the medical control states “BLS”, whether ALS or not. Practicing outside the scope of medical direction probably wouldn’t sit well.

      As far as ISO goes; it would absolutely drop. It would account for much more than just Flagler Beach. Newer equipment, REAL rank structure and proper training AND records would increase savings. It is much more than just water supply Mr. Johnson.

      Lastly, having one Paramedic on an engine is dicey. If that Paramedic calls in sick or takes a vacation, you need to staff his/her position with another Paramedic – OVERTIME. The only other solution is to downgrade the engine BACK to BLS and take all ALS equipment off. Also, your medical direction costs will increase as will the cost to the city ASTRONOMICALLY in the means of narcotics (that DO expire if not used), $15,000 + cardiac monitors, lockable storage/refrigerators for the unit, increased training continuing education requirements, insurance liability increased, etc.

      THE CITY CANNOT AFFORD IT. Time to bring in an organized, structured fire department with leadership, training and newer equipment. The FBFD was a great department through the years but the City simply cannot afford to make it ALS as Mr. Johnson states, so what are the options? Upgrade to the County or continue charging citizens more money for less “bang for the buck”. Mind boggling.

    • John Smith says:

      Well Roy Johnson you can have has many paramedics you want at that station but it is still a BLS station as all they can do is EMT duties so what good does it do to brag them up. So what good are they when the rescue unit is not there for them to assist other than doing there EMT duty which still helps save lives. Until the day it becomes a ALS certified station there duties are still EMT, so take a blood pressure. As for Shupe his vote will not be counted since it is a conflict of interest with him being a member.

  9. pete says:

    Get rid of every one and let the county take it

  10. Wise one says:

    Nothing ever good comes from getting tangled up with the county. Their spending is out of control and this would give them reason to spend even more.

  11. BOB S. says:



  12. confidential says:

    Better off keep it as is…because FB then, with proper monitoring has full control of its FBFD other than being under the county manager Coffey foot with most of the BOCC members rubber stamping his proposals. 100 grand savings do not justify the transfer also just because some of the former FBFD personnel was caught wrong doing. Just hire and monitor the right people and have them comply with proper policies. Our historic little FB on the ocean should keep its own FD as being part of its history and …maybe the first one in this county?

  13. Geezer says:

    Ahh, fierce independence…..
    I know of many cases of “fierce independents” who went bankrupt or starved.

    • Roy Johnson says:

      With all due respect, that same spirit also led to the creation of a great nation that makes it possible for us to have this debate in the first place. Fierce independence was the impetus for the historic event most of us will celebrate tomorrow.

      Having a small, limited government, one that answered to the people here and not a monarch from afar was important enough that men fought and died for the principal you’re mocking. The same principles I would hope are equally as important to the majority of my neighbors here. In my opinion July 4th should be called “Fierce Independence Day” instead of just Independence Day, it’s more representative of what it should mean to all of us.

      • Geezer says:

        That’s very nice, Roy. But I’m referring to the disingenuous people in government here,
        who are as full of s*** as the day is long with this talk of fierce independence.

        Happy 4th!

  14. Steve Cox says:

    I ask that anyone from my department as well as the County refrain from posting on this article. No matter what is said or written. The County and Flagler Beach will continue to have a good working relationship. Both departments will train side by side and strive to provide the best possible service that we can. We may wear different shirts but we respond to the same calls and do the same job. May everyone have a safe and happy 4th of July.

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