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County Floats Consolidation of Fire Services And Finally Agree to Meet With Palm Coast

| May 2, 2016

flagler county fire rescue

Palm Coast doesn;t always having to use its larger fire trucks when responding to medical calls with Flagler County Fire Rescue ambulances. But the county says it’s not something it can control. (© FlaglerLive)

It was not an easy-going meeting. Right from the start of this afternoon’s 90-minute Flagler County Commission workshop addressing ambulance service in Palm Coast—which the county provides—county commissioners, the county administrator and the county fire chief were questioning why they were having to go through today’s exercise to start with.


In the end, the most that was achieved today was agreement between the county and Palm Coast to do what they had not managed to do for months: agree to formally meet, face to face, in a joint workshop. The date of that workshop was not set. And the chances for such a workshop to break through the sort of set positions each side has taken appears, based on today’s meeting, low.

And there was little question about the adversarial nature of the discussion: even the county’s presentation was dubbed, at least in its computer file format, in the manner of a court case: “FC v COPC EMS,” that is, Flagler County vs. City of Palm Coast Emergency Medical Services. (See the presentation below.)

Before Fire Chief Don Petito launched into his presentation, with some city officials in the audience, among them Mayor Jon Netts, Commissioner Frank Meeker repeated the question he’s had for months: What’s the issue? Commissioner Nate McLaughlin wondered whether there’s been an “outcry” to speak of from residents on the east side of the county regarding ambulance service.

“We haven’t heard any,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said. “That’s why we’re struggling a little bit to fix something that doesn’t appear to be broken.” That was before he and Petito floated the suggestion that county and city fire services could be consolidated, and $1 million saved, a non-starter as far as Palm Coast is concerned.

don petito flagler

Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito. (© FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast since last fall, driven by Mayor Jon Netts’s insistence that the system could be made more efficient, has been pressing the county to reduce costs. The county provides ambulance service. But county and city both almost always respond to fire and medical calls in Palm Coast (one or the other can be “cancelled” on the way, when the call is less than critical). They usually do so with a county ambulance—city paramedics may not transport patients—and a Palm Coast fire truck. Palm Coast wants to use its fire trucks less, to save money.

How is that the county’s problem?, Meeker asked. It isn’t Petito’s presentation showed, but that’s not Palm Coast’s point: Palm Coast is proposing to switch resources around in such a way that an additional two county ambulances are located in city fire stations, thus increasing the total number of ambulances in the county from seven to nine, and helping to decrease response time to emergencies.

The city claims that the additional two ambulances can be taken from the county’s inventory of four back-up ambulances, at no additional cost.

Petito was very quick to dismiss that claim. “They’re spare for a reason: they’re used sparingly. So in order for this plan to work we’re going to have to buy two additional units,” Petito said.

He said it costs $75,000 per person to add a paramedic-firefighter, and $525,000 a year to staff an ambulance, though Palm Coast says additional personnel would not be necessary for its plan to work. Petito is skeptical.

When the county and the city talked administratively about improving efficiencies, the county proposed to the city that it could buy “jump trucks,” that is, smaller, pick-up truck-like vehicles to send to fires instead of fire trucks.

“This option goes directly to the issue of fire trucks,” Meeker said. “So now I know what the issue is that we’re trying to resolve,” and the jump truck option, he said, makes sense. Other issues and options, he said, had “nothing to do with this.”

‘This was the simplest, less complex, it saves the city money,” Coffey said.

The county invited other fire officials to address the commission, among them Carl Shank, the St. Johns County fire chief, who’s worked with Palm Coast and the county’s fire services. “You all are really blessed with a good problem here,” both agencies being of high quality,” Shank said. He cautioned against “tinkering” with a working system in order to “save a dime today to cost a dollar down the road here.” Jump trucks have their purposes, he said, but they take individuals off of fire engines to a certain time, which could lessen the proper response to a serious fire. “It won’t work for me,” he added, referring to services in St. Johns.

Kingman Schuldt, the Greater Naples fire chief (who oversees a $30 million, 14-station system), also addressed the commission. “I can tell you what has been a success for us,” he said. There were seven independent fire districts, an air[port authority and the countywide fire service, along with two independent districts. What worked, he said, was consolidating many of those services. There’s not necessarily been financial savings, he said, but the consolidation enabled adding another fire station and more equipment, without adding personnel costs. “You can maximize the dollars spent,” Schuldt said.

palm coast council members

Four of the five Palm Coast City Council members attended the meeting. From left, Mayor Jon Netts, and council members Heidi Shipley, Jason DeLorenzo and Steven Nobile.

Schuldt, too, spoke against the jump-truck idea. “Our goal all along has been to increase staffing, not reduce it,” he said—a direct, if unintended, criticism of the Palm Coast plan. “Unless you work together and consolidate,” he said, “that’s where you’re going to realize those cost-savings.”

When it was Netts’s turn to speak, he said the county has not painted an accurate picture of the issue as Palm Coast sees it, and that the county will not understand Palm Coast’s issue until the two sides sit down, face to face, and discuss it. Palm Coast has been pressing for such a meeting. The county has been resisting. “There are a lot of nuances here that we need to talk about,” he said, putting it directly to the commission: set a joint meeting.

“I still don;t understand, it’s not been articulated to me what the problem is,” McLaughlin said. “If it’s efficiency they’re after,” he added, “consolidation is the answer.”

“If there is an issue,” Meeker said, at least an issue that should be put before the public, “consolidation is the issue.”

Flagler County’s Response to Palm Coast’s EMS Proposal (2016)

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21 Responses for “County Floats Consolidation of Fire Services And Finally Agree to Meet With Palm Coast”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    Commisioner McLaughlin wants consolidation. A complete takeover of Palm Coast by Flagler County. In 1776, after American Colonist were tired of taxation, without representation they revolted. In 1999, after decades of no representation with taxation by county officials, we the people of Palm Coast revolted! They allowed our homes to burn down in 1998.

    We have a city to support our belief of limited and responsible government. I don’t want some county commissioner telling me what’s good for me in Palm Coast. We are Taxed Enough Already!
    No to big government and No to big government Nate McLaughlin.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Consolidation with a new Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Service is the true answer, if they want to be cost effective and provide superior service.
    Intentionally not running two ambulances which represents 22% or 1/5 of our equipment should be alarming to the tax payers which are being denied protection and services they pay you for.

  3. Flatsflyer says:

    I’d be thrilled just not seeing the Fire trucks at Publix on a daily basis, can’t they shop like everyone else, make a menu and stick to it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    As a resident of PC im all FOR consolidation of fire service with the County it would provide the same or better service at a lower cost. We wont be paying for TWO sets of bureaucracy.

  5. Dave says:

    Hey Flats, maybe you would like to go buy them food since they do protect your property in the event of a fire or someone needs an ambulance. I know the firemen and EMTs would appreciate it. Don’t forget their shifts are usually 24 hours – 48 hrs long and they the firefighters are always ready to respond! The city needs to better educate the public about “exactly what the fire department does.”

  6. Anonymous says:

    OMG NO we cant let this happen ~~~ That was before he and Petito floated the suggestion that county and city fire services could be consolidated, and $1 million saved, a non-starter as far as Palm Coast is concerned. What a shocker MY city government NOT wanting to save me $$$$$$$

  7. Will says:

    Anyone who thinks a consolidated fire department run by the County would be more efficient and better protect Palm Coast residents, is either new to the area or has been in a fog for the last 30 years. Also, I would venture to say those same people have no concept of the role city governments (urban service providers) play, verses normal responsibilities of County government.

  8. confidential says:

    For all those here cheering and calling for consolidation whether are due to more power special interest Meeker, McLaugh, Coffey, Petito or just plain new comers not knowing that under Flagler County’s foot in 1998 the BOCC and state let us burn please read: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/07/04/us/florida-county-evacuated-on-fear-of-merged-fires.html
    And when I say “lets us burn” was the truth as I recall as Matanzas resident we were looking at those flames in the distance advancing thru those vacant lands west of Rte 1 for couple of days with not stop as no backhoes or big trench digging equipment to make dig fire line stop was ever provided by county or state and yes they let us burn for the second time because to this county we were just unincorporated Palm Coast!! The flames and embers getting closer with the hours and only our young firefighters from then few Palm Coast unincorporated stations were there impotent and frustrated of the lack of vital digging equipment to dig trenches, when the flames jumped finally Rte 1 into Matanzas Woods homes. They stay fighting the flames we had to run home turned our sprinklers system and evacuated to their commands. That move saved our home with just charred gutters and yard. Then only county and state had heavy equipment to dig fire line stopping trenches, but non used to save Palm Coast and for the second time.
    Then with more reasons we decided to incorporate and become the city of Palm Coast in 1999 to be more in control of our services…and now these BOCC minions are trying again to do us in and take us over ?
    No way! Enough of our homes too much taxes paid to the county as is…for giving us only about 30% of our services if so, when the whole enchilada service is provided by our city government?
    Do you all want to be under the pathetic service under consolidation that as an example, we have now with the emergency call system down too often for comfort under Coffey’s/Petito and BOCC control?
    Please all Palmcoasters use your brains and before talking or being sold consolidation do an educated research. I will only vote consolidation of anything county to go under Palm Coast control! Maybe then we will finally get the services our taxes are overpaying these FCBOCC good old boys/girls system and they waste buying derelict overpriced land, buildings and utilities from their buddies and also frivolously SLAPP suing the taxpayers.!

  9. PC tax payer says:

    I always hear about what happened in 98″ when talking about consolidation but the fact is nobody could of been prepared for that at that time, It is a new time and the fire service as a whole is much more proactive when it comes to wildfires, that would never happen again. The Flagler County Fire administration that exists now was not even here in 98′ so you can not blame them. I did vote for Palm Coast to become a city in 2000 and still am glad I did . As for Fire and EMS it only make sense to consolidate the services to have a better all round department that can fill the needs for everyone who relies on PCFD and FCFR. I personally think the day Netts is gone this will happen, I have been at these meetings and even though the talk of combining services make 110% sense he is quick to dismiss it, he is not thinking of what is best for everyone he is thinking of what is best for his ego..

  10. confidential says:

    Lets be very aware that many of the people that works for the county and of course their interest to extent its power are Palm Coast residents and taxpayers as well, do not be fooled.

  11. Just a thought says:

    For you Palm Coasters that are spewing about how horrible the County is and screaming “Remember 1998” like it was the Alamo, remember this: This presentation is an answer to Palm Coast’s request to County to fix the city’s problem. The County did not just decide to present an idea to consolidate. It was one idea of many to help the city with THEIR PROBLEM. Read that again. The City has a problem running expensive fire trucks to medical calls and they want the County to fix the problem. That’s what this is all about. That and nothing else.

  12. confidential says:

    The city has a problem because we Palmcoasters are being gouge on our home taxes by the county and thought I do not really cheer most the time our Mayor Netts proposals, I totally support him on this demand.
    Like I say many county special interest are or play to be Palmcoasters and they are not! They get handsome county payroll treatment including most commissioners that after elected stab us in the back now are city residents, but money talks the big talk. If you do not believe me (a survivor of the 98 fires that heard the horror stories of Palm Coast fires of 1985 from the horses mouth) and instead are fooled to believe the above “It is a new time and the fire service as a whole is much more proactive when it comes to wildfires, that would never happen again”, you need to know that also got hot and very close in 2011 and county had a “stake holders meeting” in the EM county building were Palmcoaster were not invited/allowed except their government/administrators while big landowners from western FC were invited, here: https://flaglerlive.com/23223/flagler-fires-information/. Is this type of consolidation to be trusted..? Give me a break!

  13. confidential says:

    County and state mute as in 1985 and 1998 as were in 2011, totally zero information to Palmcoasters while we saw the fires advancing…zero words/information. We were in our own and please county cheerleaders here do not lie! In the 98 fires with my family and pets in my large SUV heading east in Palm Coast Parkway and stuck in traffic to a stand still with all the evacuees because of the bottle neck in the Hammock Dunes Bridge and glancing to the rear window we could see not the smoke,but worse the fire glare and flames at the end of west Palm Coast Parkway. We were wondering if we could cross that bridge in time into A1A going to shelter in a friends house. We could see the big embers falling even in the intracoastal. When we were allowed back next day in our Matanzas woods home the devastation along Belle Terre parkway all charred from the school and north was awful. Also many houses in the north C section were destroyed. Our home had just minor damage as we and other neighbors left our sprinklers running and our PC firefighters excel and did a great job. Then came the scare of 2011 and big silence again. So go figure this proposed consolidation…over my dead body only!
    Maybe put it to referendum of the people…and at the same time just add city annexation of county, please. Lest do not play games with Fire and EMS and give us our ambulances BOCC because we already paid for them! And please give us no lies?

  14. Barry Hartmann says:

    As a resident of PC im all FOR consolidation of fire service with the County it would provide the same or better service at a lower cost. We wont be paying for TWO sets of bureaucracy.
    Best and most sensible Post of all!

  15. Dave P says:

    Just what we need another problem. For one thing that I’d like to get off my chest is we “Palmcoasters are being gouge on our home taxes by the county “. I’m so sick and tired of hearing that comment or statement. The “WE” are no different then any other city/county in paying taxes. Look to the North, South, and West all paying both city and county taxes. So enough of the BS. Now on to the bigger picture in hand ” Consolidation” Would it work, or Not??? Here’s my take.
    1. Yes, why?, More equipment, manpower, additional personnel, better purchasing power, on, on, and on.
    But the entire county to include the city’s of Bunnell, Flagler Beach, Beverly Beach, and Marineland have to join in.
    2. No, why??? Who would be in charge, at this time IMO neither of the current fire administrations would be willing to give up their current positions. And both have staff that IMO are incompetent in their positions. And for sure we don’t want the inadequate county administration to run things. One Fine example, they gave away there bread and butter in inter- facility transport function. Why to stave off the city gaining the ability to obtain the COPCN, and the clamming that they wanted to have more units available for the tax payers. I call BS. The easy fix was to purchase another new unit dedicated solely to transport, hire six new people, and work an agreement with the hospital to guarantee payment for each transport. And before it’s said it can’t be done, I ask why is Century now down here doing transport’s? Money?, for the fun of it!!! Think people think.!!!!
    Having worked for and lived in this county since 1989, I have seen it grow from nothing to what it is now. And what I see I don’t like, Jim Landon has got to go, along with city commissioners, and staff. The city mentally has got to change, The county fire chief, and Ops chief have got to go. Even as Greg Coffey and his staff have got to go. How do we the TAX payers do that?? by “VOTING”. It’s time for a change across the board, both city and county.
    I await my turn in the barrel!!!!

  16. Laughable says:

    I think more of you need to read “just a thoughts” comment… It seems so many of you are angry with the county, hell maybe a little gratitude for the county would go a long way for them putting up with city’s irrational requests or ideas! Splitting guys up and creating “jump trucks” is possibly the worst idea yet, how ever I’m sure they are actively trying to come up with worse! Make sure you find the “root” (city) of the problem and start there!! From what I’ve read the county doesn’t have any issues, that is before the city creates them! So before you go bashing the county maybe you should ask yourself why this is going on in the first place..

  17. just saying says:

    There is also more to flagler county than Palm Coast. Unincorporated flagler deserves a reasonable level of service as well, which FCFR provides. I see no reason to change the County, but if the city has issues, then perhaps the city should change.

  18. fireside says:

    For you Palm Coasters that are spewing about how horrible the County is and screaming “Remember 1998” like it was the Alamo, remember this: This presentation is an answer to Palm Coast’s request to County to fix the city’s problem. The County did not just decide to present an idea to consolidate. It was one idea of many to help the city with THEIR PROBLEM. Read that again. The City has a problem running expensive fire trucks to medical calls and they want the County to fix the problem. That’s what this is all about. That and nothing else.

    This is a very true statement… Palm Coasters need to READ and THINK about it before speaking….

  19. confidential says:

    To Dave, just in case you don’t remember the growth you have seeing in this county since you work for the county and reside on it since 1989 , was thanks to the development of Palm Coast by ITT and its 300 miles of canals to make buildable lots for Palm Coast otherwise Flagler county would still be no more than mostly a pretty swamp. Palm Coast is what made the county what is today and still we get the wrong end of the stick. So give us our ambulances that we already paid for and end of story or better give us a referendum. Also City and County needs to let us the taxpayers express our concerns regarding this consolidation proposal. By the way the folks in west Flagler county also complain about how long takes for an ambulance to show up when an emergency is called. We the people really need to know what is going on with this issue. Where the EMS ambulances come out when a call comes in from around PC Parkway area that is our city center, or north of it? Also who is Century and who pays for them and who do they serve? Too many unanswered questions. Too many sick and tired when the real Palmcoasters footing the bill have the audacity to question this FCBOCC and administrators.

  20. Dave P says:

    Confidential:

    Great reply but, First: “HAD” worked, “NOT” working now for the county. Yes Flagler would have still been mostly swamp, as a matter of fact you could have said that about anywhere in Florida for that matters.
    Second: The people made Flagler what it is, not just Palm coast. You pay county taxes, just like Flagler Beach, Bunnell, Beverly beach. As a matter of fact just like any other city or county in the GREAT state of Florida pay both taxes, so IMO that doesn’t fly. Would be no different say Miami Dade county. The city pay’s higher taxes then some in the county, so as you say they should get the lions share!! Again it doesn’t work that way.
    Third: Be careful what you want or ask for, as for referendum, you ask, WE may get from the city. In the form of a tax increase FROM Palm Coast, NOT FLAGLER.
    Forth: Yes we should have a say in any consolidation proposals, but any type of consolidation of any type of service “WON’T” work unless you see a tax decrease, Money saved by consolidation will not be returned to the TAX payer, but instead redistributed through the city or county budget’s. Powers to be in both organization’s will not return money’s all ready collected or reduce their already approved spending.
    Fifth: Ambulance’s are assigned to areas of response based sometimes on needs, response times to areas and such to name a few. The city has chosen to run million dollar trucks around the city for medical calls, why should that by a county problem. If you don’t remember the CITY tried what was discussed in the pretention so called “JUMP” trucks. I ask what has become of them?? If you read what was written, 1 went to fleet as a service truck, and one went to another department within the city. The 3rd unit sits some time’s idle @ station 25. Is this a good or bad idea??? That’s whole another debate.

    To answer who Century is. It’s a private ambulance company out of Jacksonville, who the county gave approval for them to come down and conduct interfaculty transfer’s and the such. Basically sending are tax dollar’s elsewhere, other then returning them to the county.

    Since I’ve been here all I have ever heard is “WE” Palm Coast this and that, there other’s out here who deserve just as much as PALM COASTER’S do. Because I pay $ 1.00 in taxes because of where I live, and You pay $ 2.00 means you should be a priority, or get better service’s then me. I think “NOT”, remember why you moved down here, was it because you hated higher taxes’?, hated the crowds?? , hated the crime???, Hated each other????, If you don’t like it “VOTE”.

  21. Brian R Juntikka says:

    Barry Hartmann says:
    May 3, 2016 at 6:35 pm
    As a resident of PC im all FOR consolidation of fire service with the County it would provide the same or better service at a lower cost. We wont be paying for TWO sets of bureaucracy.
    Best and most sensible Post of all!

    Good news, Barry…your tax dollars aren’t supporting two fire departments. Read your tax bill and you will find that you support only one fire department. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.

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