published: Wednesday, August 21, 2013
County approves SNL fire changes
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING -- Sitting as the Board of Supervisors for the West Sebring Fire District, Highlands County commissioners Tuesday inked an agreement between the West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department and the Sun 'N Lake Improvement District to provide fire service to the district.
Highlands County Emergency Operations Director Tim Eures told commissioners he had met several times over the past three years in regard to the mutual aid agreement providing fire protection services there.
"We wanted to make certain first and foremost that the citizens will have a consistent level of service for their area," Eures said.
He said the agreement mirrored a similar accord cobbled together several years back with the assistance of now-commission chairman Jack Richie for fire coverage at Sun 'N Lake of Lake Placid.
Earlier this year, the board of Sun 'N Lake of Sebring Improvement District voted unanimously to enter into a contract with the West Sebring entities to take over fire protection. Reportedly, the plan is to expand the West Sebring District in the coming fiscal year to include the Sun 'N Lake Improvement District.
The district's volunteer fire station was closed July 12, and West Sebring VFD, which before provided after-hours mutual aid coverage, has been handling the district's calls full time since then.
"The business model that we had did not work," said SNL Improvement District General Manager Michael Wright. "We had employees of other departments that would work eight hours a day for us and then act as volunteers after 4:30 in the afternoon"
Wright said the problem was the getting calls answered by the district's firefighters after hours.
"We found 40 percent of the calls after hours were not answered," he said.
He told commissioners that in one year there were 100 mutual aid calls that went unanswered. That, he said, was what caused the district to seek other alternatives.
As part of the plan, the improvement district will provide a satellite location inside Sun 'N Lake for units there.
"I have asked that they (Sun 'N Lake) provide a station location," Eures said. That would be both for travel times and for insurance considerations.
Commissioner Ron Handley asked if they also might consider in time cohabiting with an Emergency Medical Services unit. Eures responded that would be possible, but would require a "substantial commitment" from Sun 'N Lake.
Wright said due to the fact that most of the calls there were for EMS units, the district had set aside $100,000 for just such a project and that Florida Hospital Heartland Medical Center has made an offer to provide land for a joint-use building.
The former Sun 'N Lake firefighting vehicles currently are in storage. Two remain at the improvement district's complex, with a third at the West Sebring fire station so volunteers may become familiar with the apparatus.
S.N.L. FIRE STATION (by: JOE ECK - 8/23/2013)
Joe Eck · Sebring, Florida
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