It’s back: the Flagler Beach Fire Department is requesting approval of a $546,000 fire truck to replace its 25-year-old Engine 111, “deemed unreliable for day-to-day usage,” according to the fire department. The commission this time is more readily receptive.
The city would buy the truck with $406,759 accumulated over the last few years for the purpose, and with $63,000 expected from a pair of developers as part of their development agreements. The remaining balance would be $76,574. The earmarked fire reserve is drawn from half-cent sales tax revenue intended for infrastructure. Because of the annual allocation into the reserve fund, the city is in a better place now than it was last year to make the buy.
The fire truck will not be brand new. It’s a demonstration model with 3,000 miles on it. It will save the city between $20,000 and $25,000. “It was just a technique I picked up from another community and just sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good and it worked,” Whitson said of going with a demo model when he explained the purchase at the workshop. He’d questioned Pace on whether the city had to custom-build the truck.
But as in 2016 and again in 2020, when fire-truck purchases were floated, the proposal is drawing some opposition, some of it intimating (again) that the city should consider consolidation with county fire services. (The idea goes back years, if not decades, but has never won support from a majority of commissioners, and isn’t about to from the current commission). Opposition is coming mainly not at meetings of the commission, where the truck has hardly been discussed, but through social media and emails from constituents and a former city commissioner either to Bobby Pace, the city fire chief, to William Whitson, the city manager, or to commissioners.
The proposed purchase is on the Flagler Beach City Commission’s agenda Thursday evening–ahead of the commission’s final budget workshop next week. But the brewing public response could possibly delay the buy pending a workshop. On Tuesday Whitson suggested in an email to the commission “the possibility of having a workshop on the fire truck, so the public understands how we are operating now, and what we would use the new vehicle to do.” The move followed rising pressure from public questions, though by today he may have changed his mind.
“From my point of view, the questions being asked are all important for the public to understand,” Whitson wrote Pace this morning. “However, the Bottom line is every discussion is oriented to ‘operational matters’. While there is nothing wrong with explanations and discussions to better inform the public, it really boils down to trust in professionals. I trust that you and the Dept. professionals who run calls every day to know what kind of equipment you need to do your job.” He said fire truck issues have been discussed in the community “for years,” but the current proposal presents an opportunity “to get a 15% discount on a quality piece of equipment needed by the Dept. to do your job. I think, given the severity of this Pandemic and the potential for future disaster scenario’s we should proceed ahead.” (Pace’s possible exposure to Covid may also play a role in the delay, depending on his test outcomes.)
Fire truck requests have a scorching history before the Flagler Beach City Commission, though this particular commission has two new members who’ve never been through the inferno. That helps explain why the commission discussion this time around was swifter and smoother: commissioners, with one exception, gave their go-ahead during a budget workshop last month, setting the groundwork for Thursday’s possible vote.
The Fire Department first proposed buying a new fire pumper in the spring of 2020, a few months ahead of the normal budget process. The proposal quickly ran into a few problems, not least of which its timing with the pandemic’s first wave, when the commission was meeting by zoom and the public had no serious chance of being heard in large numbers. The proposal lacked a few details, and commissioners’ memories were still fresh with the brawl over the previous fire-truck purchase in 2014-15. That one took 18 months to make its way from controversy to delivery. To get there it scaled petitions against the purchase and organized opposition that included none other than Rick Belhumeur, who gained public exposure and used it to get elected to the commission, without opposition–six days before the city took delivery of the contested truck. The $568,000 “quint” (so-called because of its versatility: it has five significant firefighting capabilities) has been in service since.
Then-Commissioner Kim Carney had led the opposition from her seat on the commission. She’s at it again from beyond the commission. “As a commissioner in 2014 I tried to stop the purchase of the quint and was unsuccessful, as you know it takes 3 votes,” Carney wrote Whitson Monday in a lengthy email. “I am not opposed to the need for a fire squad in Flagler Beach on S. Flagler Ave. I am opposed to what they are telling you. You are a very smart man and I am sure you have had to cut through the weeds on many purchases in your career. Please pull this item from Thursday night’s agenda. More time needs to be taken for this purchase. I understand the purchase is not going to happen unless the budget is approved but preliminarily it is better to hold off until all the information is out there.”
Meanwhile it appears Carney had openly discussed her stance on Facebook–as residents are wont to do when they seize on an issue. Whitson bristled: “I am stunned and rather mystified as to why you put information all over facebook without speaking to me first? I thought we were on better terms, but, I guess not,” he wrote her an hour after her email. “Too bad that we could not speak before you placed political pressure on my plate as if there was not enough on my to do list at this point already.” (The next day Pace responded to Carney in a point-by-point approach, in an email to Whitson. See it in the comments below.)
But Belhumeur, too, is raising questions about the purchase. “I just went through this for the last fire truck, and then we were told that we wouldn’t need more people, and we ended up with more people,” he said during the workshop. “Now we have nine firefighters but we need three frontline trucks. I just can’t understand that–why we need two reserve trucks when we only have three firefighters on shift.”
“Because you’re operating at 365, seven days a week,” Whitson said, not quite answering the question. “It’s a 24-hour cycle, car wrecks happen at 2 a.m., on Sunday mornings, I mean, these are the kinds of things you just got to be able to respond to the different situations that get thrown at you and there’s no time off.”
“They’ve been putting money aside for that for quite some time, they’re going to get extra money from these two developments, of course it won’t be until they apply for permits until we get that money,” Belhumeur said today. “The part I just don’t get is why they need three fire trucks. I just don’t understand why they need three, front-line, fully equipped fire engines. The other part that bothers me is we did not get good feedback from the residents. We had a 10-minute discussion during a budget workshop nobody comes to–very few come to. I just don’t think the transparency is there to put the cart in front of the horse and commit to something that’s not in the budget yet.”
Pace addressed the question in an email to Whitson: “The question has been posed many times of why does the department require 3 frontline fire apparatus with the majority of time only staffing 3 firefighters. What the department is attempting to accomplish through a true depreciation/replacement plan is also preservation for fire apparatus,” Pace wrote. “The benefit in purchasing Ladder 11 cannot be understated. There have been many calls since 2015 that have required high angle access, ventilation operations, and elevated water streams. In buying a new fire engine/pumper, this truck would become the department’s primary unit, however the accessibility of Ladder 11 would not change.” He outlined a few technical details and added: “Unfortunately, even with a quality preventative maintenance program, there have been times when a couple of units are in need of repair. In these cases, crews must have a reserve truck to move to. One final point is the availability of additional water supply on back-up apparatus. The department does utilize some volunteer members as driver/operators and in the event that additional water supply was required at a scene, those volunteers can respond with a reserve truck.”
Meanwhile, Whitson and the commission have received a fair share of emails asking for a delay in the purchase, some of them with attached bullet points outlining issues and potential savings (caution: the document has not been fact-checked). “I previously reached out to each commissioner and our mayor to request you consider doing a study to determine if it would be beneficial to our city [to] merge with the Flagler County Fire Department,” Donna Schneider wrote commissioners, attaching the document. “Several of you replied that you would be willing to discuss [it] with the City Manager once thing settled down. I have never heard anything back about a discussion taking place. Instead, you are now planning to take a vote on purchasing a new fire truck.”
Kare Padgett, who’s taken a lead role in the opposition, asked earlier this week that the agenda item be “tabled for another day.”
“It is no secret that I personally do not feel the residents of our city can afford a ’boutique fire department’ or that the cost is simply not sustainable for the residents (who mainly are comprised of retirees) to support such an endeavor,” Padgett wrote. “That being said; in light of our current economic situation and the status of our society as a whole as a result of the Covid pandemic, to approve such an expense at this time is not prudent.” The email’s identical wording was used by several other residents who signed their name to it, so it isn’t clear who wrote the original.
The Proposed Purchase of a Fire Truck:
Kim Carney says
Chief Pace has never responded to me nor has he provided a point-by-point response. If you have a record of such please forward to me or change your story
The article wasn’t initially clear: Pace responded to Whitson about Ms. Carney’s concerns, not to Carney. Here’s the Pace email in full.
From: Robert Pace
Sent: Tuesday, August 17, 2021 4:00 PM
To: William Whitson
Cc: Stephen Cox
Subject: Re: Fire Department Budget
The following is in response to Mrs. Carney’s concerns;
– A fire squad is not sufficient when considering frontline fire equipment. The aerial and pumper units are constructed/outfitted to respond to a multitude of calls. This would include structure fires, brush fires, water rescue, Haz-Mat, MVAs, and medical calls
– Between 2011-2018, the department made significant improvements based on observations made through ISO in 2011. FBFD also follows as many national standards that are feasible. The department utilizes recommendations set forth through NFPA, always keeping in mind Flagler Beach is a small city and they are recommendations. The training portion/score has been greatly improved in the ISO report over the last 10 years
– According to our last ISO representative, insurance savings for homeowners can vary from house to house. The 30% average was based on the ISO rating of 3 and only speaks to the fire protection portions of a homeowner’s policy
– Gaining the ISO rating of 3 was a huge accomplishment for the department and the city. Falling back to a rating of 4 is not even considered as an option, however losing significant points is possible. To retain a rating of 3, if not higher,the city must be committed to protecting resources and progressions implemented. Some of those major points would include water supply, fire apparatus, fire equipment, staffing, training, and response times
– There is only one station house in the city and it would stand to reason that there be 3 frontline fire units staged in the bays.This is all the fire suppression units dedicated to our city. The Palm Coast Fire Department stores multiple fire units at their main station #25
– The mutual aid credit within the ISO report is in addition to the 3 frontline fire apparatus already in-service for Flagler Beach. Mutual aid staffing at structure fires is shared by all agencies within the county
– It is true that Engine 111 should have been replaced years ago. It was discussed in front of the city commission in 2014 of gaining another 6-8 years of service from Engine 111. Mrs. Carney was a member of the board at the time. FBFD is not comparing ourselves to Palm Coast, rather than a 12 year replacement plan, the department is looking eventually to replace frontline apparatus between 15-20 years
– in a perfect world, every engine of ladder company would like to roll out their bays with 4 to 5 firefighters on board. Keeping in mind once again, NFPA provides recommendations. FBFD has worked tirelessly over the years to increase crew size to 3 firefighters. Being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars and recognizing the size of the city, responding to emergency calls has been accomplished successfully utilizing a crew size of 3
– As the city continues to grow and the creation of new developments may warrant additional future staffing. This could only happen by more roof tops and additional tax revenue
Sent from my iPhone
For the sake of completeness, here’s the Kim Carney email—written to Whitson—to which Pace was responding:
Sent: Monday, August 16, 2021 4:39 PM
To: William Whitson
Subject: Fire Department Budget
I have been involved with the group of citizens that want to bring to light exactly what is going on in FB with regards to the Fire Department recent request for a fire truck. As a commissioner in 2014 I tried to stop the purchase of the quint and was unsuccessful, as you know it takes 3 votes. I am not opposed to the need for a fire squad in Flagler Beach on S. Flagler Ave. I am opposed to what they are telling you. You are a very smart man and I am sure you have had to cut through the weeds on many purchases in your career. Please pull this item from Thursday night’s agenda. More time needs to be taken for this purchase. I understand the purchase is not going to happen unless the budget is approved but preliminarily it is better to hold off until all the information is out there.
I am attaching the ISO Audit from 2018 that Bobby refers to. The ISO is a for profit company that rates fire services. They do not inspect, they do not set standards. The information gained in the ISO report can be used to educate departments on how to improve but with regards to day to day operations I would hope our FD uses National Standards. IF the goal of the FBFD is to get to the highest possible level of ISO rating why don’t they start with improving their dismal score in the training portion? Why would they ever tell you that IF this purchase is not made we run the risk of lowering our score and not maintain the maximum affordability for homeowner’s insurance. THERE IS NO WHERE, EVEN IF YOU CALL ISO, WHERE YOU CAN PROVE A SAVINGS OF 30% WITH ANY HOMEOWNER INSURANCE COMPANY!!! Make them prove it. Not only that, for FBFD to drop to a 4 they need to lose 7.2 points. Ask them to show you where that many points would be LOST!!!!! It can’t happen. There is not 1 fire house in Flagler County that has 3 vehicles. Why specifically do we need 3 when the ISO recognizes the back up as mutual aid? E111 should be taken out of service. E11 should be the backup engine. If water capacity is an issue we told them that in 2014 and they didn’t listen. We do not have enough staff for the quint, they knew that. Their ISO score shows it. Every time there is a structure fire in Flagler Beach Flagler County sends support vehicle, battalion chief, oxygen and 12 firefights/paramedics. IT IS THE LAW!!
In response to Bobby’s comments in the 21-22 Budget: In order for the City to continue to provide the benefit of a reduction in home insurance costs to its residents, the FBFD must be equipped with two (2) engines/ pumpers and one (1) aerial unit within its fleet. THE ANSWER: The Flagler Beach Fire Chief is misleading the Commissioners and city manager by stating in his report to them at Resolution 2020-12: “Adhering to the department’s ISO rating of 3, the city must insure 2 fire engines/ pumpers and 1 aerial unit within its fleet, however the chief is “insuring the two engines” by using the FD automatic response from other agencies, NOT Engine 111, the reserve engine. The chief already knows that there is Automatic Aid Engine Companies response specifically identified in the standard operating procedures for dispatch to structure fires in FB as stated in the ISO audit. The ISO audit also states, “2 Engines in Service” which acknowledges the need or dependency on the “Automatic Aid Engine Companies”. That means OTHER (Flagler County & Palm Coast Fire Departments or Companies) will be responding automatically to the City of Flagler Beach on structure fires, which will “insure two engines/pumper and an aerial/ladder.
Bobby’s Comment: This is stated in the Public Protection Classification Summary Report Page 2, Section 2, which states the following; Engine Companies are credited for 6 points and Ladder/ Service Companies receive 4 points credit. This 10 points is imperative to the overall 50 points”. This equipment will allow the Fire Department to achieve the highest score possible to be able to contribute to the final ISO rating. THE ANSWER: The ISO audit also states, “2 Engines in Service” which acknowledges the need or dependency on the “Automatic Aid Engine Companies”. That means OTHER (Flagler County & Palm Coast Fire Departments or Companies) will be responding automatically to the City of Flagler Beach on structure fires, which will “insure two engines/pumper and an aerial/ladder.
Bobby also talks about INDUSTRY STANDARDS FOR REPLACEMENT: The National Fire Protection Association ( NFPA) provides specific recommendations for the replacement of front line fire equipment. On this topic, the NFPA Handbook 17th Edition Section 1901 states as follows; that fire service leaders should carefully consider the value ( or risk) to their firefighters of keeping first-line apparatus in service when it’s older than 15 years’ old”. Currently, the Fire Department for the City of Palm Coast replaces front- line fire apparatus on average every twelve ( 12) years. If he uses this standard why hasn’t E111 been taken out of service several years ago? And as for me I don’t want to be compared to Palm Coast….I don’t live there, I don’t pay taxes there. I want to do what is right for the citizens of Flagler Beach, comparing Palm Coast population 94,000, City of Flagler Beach 5,200 is not the correct measure. Why don’t we look at FD in cities with our population and realize they are ALL run by the County FD system?
Why doesn’t Bobby point out the obvious and the REAL reason the fire company scored so low? Item 571 “Credit for Company Personnel” = 6.29 points out 15. The FD is not receiving full credit for company personnel because they are NOT in compliance with NFPA 1710 Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Department Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments.
5.2.3 Operating Units: Fire company staffing requirements shall be based on minimum levels necessary for safe, effective, and efficient emergency operations.
18.104.22.168.2 Engine companies shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty members.
22.214.171.124.1 Ladder companies shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty members.
The FSRS recognizes 3.88 on-duty personnel and an average of 2.0 on-call personnel responding on first alarm structure fires. I guess next year they will request 4 more staff to “meet” the standards. It is time Flagler Beach residents know what is going on. This is a fire squad that has been dressed up, dressed out and is sucking us dry.
Please back down on this purchase. I am happy to meet with you to discuss. Please meet with Donna. She sent me a copy of her email from last week. It is time to have the tough discussion.
Lance Carroll says
Let’s thank Flagler Beach City Commissioner, Jack Kelly. Mr. Kelly is the commissioner who, in the 1980’s, voted against a rule that would have allowed for conveyances beyond 35′ in elevation. We do not, in Flagler Beach, have any conveyances above 35′ of elevation beyond those built in the early ’80s. That being said, there are several residential towers within Flagler Beach. I imagine that these towers offer a substantial tax base to the City of Flagler Beach. I imagine that the residents of said residential towers are interested in the ability of the Flagler Beach Fire Department, as well as the back up units, being sufficiently equipped to respond to their needs in the event of an emergency. Buy the firetruck and leave the beach alone. That seems like a $49,500,000 gain…. while the beach ain’t gonna catch on fire? I am for the purchase of the firetruck…as the sand on the beach would be difficult to throw onto a fire 65′ off the ground…..and, let’s make sure the fire suppression systems in those few residential towers are consistently tested and approved. Has Mrs. Carney factored this into her rebuttal?
Karen Joiner says
The Kim Carney email reprinted in its entirety is a very good synopsis of the issues a small town fire department faces. It’s a very educational email. I encourage every citizen of Flagler Beach read this email. We don’t need another fire truck. We need to train the personnel we have instead of wasting more of our city’s budget. Our city manager and our commissioners need to re evaluate merging with the County Fire Dept ….just like most other small towns do. The Fire Dept budget doubled in the last 5 years through 2020. I can’t wait the see how much this Department costs us in the next 5 years. And remember the residents of the City of Flagler Beach already pay for the County Fire Dept as part of your Much Larger Flagler County Taxes…….Double taxation, double taxation, double taxation. Etc etc etc.
Concerned Citizen says
Speaking as a retired FF/EMT Lieutenant.
There will always be opposition to large purchases. Until the big one happens or it affects City leadership. I support our local agencies fully but if they are unable to full fill mission requirements adequately then perhaps it is time to look at the County taking over fire services for Flagler Beach. it doesn’t necessarily mean that current FF’s will be out of a job. It augments staff and equipment with additional resources.
After reviewing Ms. Carney’s response it seems like she doesn’t much care for her Fire Department. Nor does she really have a solid grasp on Fire Operations. Need to set the personal vendetta aside. And learn how fire operations work. And yes I’m pretty sure there are stations with more than two vehicles in them.
FRED HIATT says
As a Flagler Beach taxpayer, I believe it is of the utmost importance to have a professional and competent staff. Human Resources is a local government’s most valuable resource. Once you have a quality staff, it’s imperative they have the equipment and resources they need to do their job.
If the Fire Chief is telling us we need this equipment, I trust him. He’s the professional. Does it make sense to have lay citizens make the decisions the professionals should be making. I don’t think so. I don’t know Chief Pace personally. I hope he’s a man of integrity and that he puts the safety of the citizens and his crews first. We need to let this professional do his job. We have a veteran city manager that will make sure his Director’s are doing what’s right for our City.
Let’s stop nickel and diming our folks. Let’s give them the tools they need. Instead of cutting their budgets, let’s boost it. I’d love to see our FD move from Basic Life Support (BLS) to Advanced Life Support (ALS), it could save my life one day. I’m sure there’s places to cut the budget if we must. If we need it cut, let the professionals make that happen. That’s what we pay them for. Let’s stop undermining their jobs. My two cents.
@To Whom It May Concern:
Seek, and ye shall find:
What Does the American Rescue Plan Mean for Fire Departments?
“…Even though ARP funds may not reach local governments for several months, you should start your efforts now if you are going to be successful…”
“The country is in deep trouble. We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that’s the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.”
— Cornel West
Land of no turn signals says says
I’m not sayin and I know fire equipment is important but a lot see a lot of expensive fire equipment parked at the 7/11 on A1A on the weekends on a regular basis.There has to be a cheaper piece of equipment that can be used.
Why doesn’t Flagler Beach have Flagler County provide fire service? Would be one less thing Flagler Beach could screw up.