Editorial comment:
(This appears to be selfserving protectionism at it best.)

Politicians, Fire Chiefs Attack Amendment

By Shannon O'Boye
Staff Writer
Sun-Sentinel

November 3, 2002
Broward County, FL - Politicians and fire chiefs from several Broward County cities have launched a public relations campaign to defeat a charter amendment that would create a fire-rescue advisory board for Broward County.

The Group Cities EMS Coalition took out full-page ads in the local newspapers before Election Day encouraging voters to say "no," and a small group recently met with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board to make their case.

The amendment would create a countywide communications infrastructure--including radio equipment and computer-aided dispatch systems--to ensure that firefighters from different departments can talk to each other during emergencies.

It would also establish a nine-member advisory board to make recommendations on how to improve fire-rescue service. The council would not have the authority to force its ideas on the county or the cities.

Coral Springs Mayor John Sommerer, who is a member of the Group Cities EMS Coalition, said cooperation and coordination are good goals but a new council would derail the work that has already been done by a fire-rescue task force formed earlier this year.

He said the county commissioners would ignore the task force and say they had to listen to the council that was mandated by the voters.

But that task force, comprised of firefighters, fire chiefs, and county and local officials, has stopped meeting since disagreement erupted between municipal and county officials on the first solid proposal that emerged.

After the task force started earlier this year, members broke into groups and met for several months to discuss four issues: the creation of countywide standards; how to create common communications for the entire county; how to get the closest truck to an emergency regardless of city boundaries and what specialty services should be provided on a regional basis.

The regional services group, led by Herminio Lorenzo, head of the Broward County Fire-Rescue department, completed its work first and presented a plan to the Board of County Commissioners in June. The commission adopted the plan unanimously and allotted $16 million in this year's budget to fund it.

The plan called for transforming Broward County Fire-Rescue into specialty units that would cover Alligator Alley, improve coverage at the seaport and airport, and fill in for cities' firefighters when they were training, in addition to providing beefed-up hazardous material, technical rescue and air rescue service.

However, critics like Sommerer and Davie Fire Chief Don DiPetrillo said Lorenzo took ideas that were only discussed in theory, wrote them down and presented them to county commissioners without getting permission from the rest of the task force.

Lorenzo contends that "everything put in the regional services plan was arrived at by consensus by everyone in that room. No one spoke in opposition."

Lorenzo said that before the controversy over regional services erupted, the group working on the communications problems in Broward County developed a 7-to-10-year plan that would enable all firefighters and dispatchers to talk.

County Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin, who charged the fire-rescue task force, said she was "extremely disappointed" by recent events.

"We have been participating in this process in good faith with the idea that what happened in the past is over and we're new players," she said. "This group of people were a part of this task force, and for them to torpedo this at this point is really disheartening for me."

Sommerer said cities still want to see progress on regional services and communications, but they do not want Broward County Fire-Rescue to have the lead or for County Commissioners to tell cities what to do.

"Everyone wants to improve fire-rescue, it's just the method of how we're going to achieve it," said Davie Councilwoman Susan Starkey. "Cities can do it better than at a regional [level].

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/loc...news%2Dbroward

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