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    Mar 2001

    Post Volusia County Fla--Cities & County Discuss Improvements in Coverage


    Goal is to speed rescuers' reaction

    By Alicia A. Caldwell and Kevin P. Connolly | Sentinel Staff Writers
    Posted March 16, 2003


    CLOSEST-UNIT RESPONSE: This term refers to the practice of sending the closest firefighters to calls, even if it means crossing jurisdictional boundaries. That means, for example, a county firefighting unit would respond to a call in Daytona Beach if it's the closest unit to a call within the city.

    STATUS: Volusia and its 12 cities with firefighting departments do not have closest-unit response agreements, although three cities -- Edgewater, New Smyrna Beach and Port Orange -- have forged such an agreement, which will include Ponce Inlet starting April 1.
    MUTUAL AID: This term refers to the practice of one agency calling another outside its jurisdiction when it needs additional help on a call.

    STATUS: Volusia and its cities with fire departments have mutual-aid agreements.
    CONSOLIDATED DISPATCH:This term means all 911 calls in a geographic area are routed into and out of a central location.

    TUS:Volusia County does not have consolidated dispatch. There are 10 main "answering points" scattered throughout the county for 911 calls made by land lines. All 911 calls from cellular phones are routed to the Sheriff's Office, which then transfers those calls to the appropriate agency.

    Volusia County has 13 fire departments. The county covers the unincorporated areas of Volusia, the Daytona Beach International Airport and four cities: Pierson, Lake Helen, DeBary and Oak Hill. The other 12 cities have their own fire departments.
    When Matilda Riley's Daytona Beach house caught fire in April 2001, she stood by watching it burn, waiting for firefighters to arrive.

    Six minutes after the first 911 call was made, the Daytona Beach Fire Department arrived to douse the flames.

    En route to the Flomich Street house, the Daytona Beach rescuers passed a Volusia County Fire Services station that was just one block from the blaze. The county rescuers not only didn't know about the fire, but at the time they also said they couldn't cross the city's boundary without being asked.

    It's an all-too-common situation in Volusia County, fire officials say. Although a solution -- responding to emergencies regardless of geography -- seems simple, the concept continues to generate debate.

    The county, meanwhile, recently began moving forward on a plan that would help break down jurisdictional barriers by requiring the closest unit to respond automatically to calls regardless of government boundaries. On Friday, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office also released a "concept paper" that outlined the cost benefits of "coordinated emergency communications," the first step toward consolidating other emergency services.

    The latest efforts come years after departments and counties across Florida and the country have all but erased lines on maps that divide cities and counties.

    In Pinellas County, for example, officials recognized a problem more than a decade ago and created countywide automatic-aid agreements, said Chuck Kearns, Pinellas' director of EMS/Fire Administration. Pinellas officials also created a single 911 dispatch center in the late 1980s, which he said was a necessity for successful aid agreements.

    "It was kind of fiscally driven and customer-service driven," Kearns said. "It's not unheard of for a fire call to go out and have five departments respond."

    Today, that county's fire departments function, in some ways, as though they were one agency, he said.

    Volusia fire officials agree that the Pinellas system, cited in a 2002 independent review of Volusia County emergency services that recommended automatic aid and consolidated dispatching efforts, is a good idea. The problem, many say, boils down to a question of economics.

    "There tends to be a financial burden on the cities and their taxpayers," Ormond Beach Fire Chief Barry B. Baker said.

    The problem, Baker and others say, is that Volusia County Fire Services often cannot provide an equal level of service.

    Baker said city taxpayers don't want a unified system to reduce their existing level of fire protection. He added that responding to an emergency outside his city often strains limited resources and can leave a protection gap for city residents.

    "It's not fair for them to have to pay more for less services," Baker said.

    Some disagree.

    "I think what matters is when you are the patient or your property is on fire, you want the closest responder," Kearns said.

    That's not what happened in January when a dispatcher from DeLand called back a city firetruck after a car smashed into a ramshackle church just outside the city's boundaries. A county firetruck, nearly four miles from the accident scene that left two DeLand men dead, responded to the fire. Firefighters arrived about eight minutes after the first 911 call while the DeLand station, about a mile away, sat idle.

    City and fire officials have said that a faster response probably would not have saved the men's lives. They added that the incident serves as an example of the problems caused by a fragmented emergency-response system.

    The report released Friday was prepared by emergency-services representatives from throughout the county. It showed that a single 911 center would save more than $4.2 million annually across the county.

    Currently, calls can go to 10 call centers in the county. The majority of the savings, about $3.5 million, would come from cutting staff, the report showed.

    "There is no question that this is a more efficient way to provide service to the public," sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson said. "I don't see how anybody could read this report and not come up with this conclusion."

    The 18-page report was distributed to police and fire chiefs and mayors throughout the county, Davidson said. It is unclear, he said, when the changes recommended in the report would be implemented. It requires everyone to agree on a plan, and no one knows when that might happen.

    However, in May the County Council is expected to revise its emergency medical services ordinance, which, as proposed, would require all of the county's fire departments to provide automatic aid, county spokesman Dave Byron said.

    It could take as long as two years for the change to take effect countywide as fire departments re-apply for permission to operate through the county under the new rules, Byron said.

    For some, the changes can't come fast enough.

    "It's kind of a game of Russian roulette that we're playing," Volusia County Fire Services Chief Jim Tauber said of the current emergency-response system.

    "It's time to stop all the nonsense and get this done right. It's a tragedy waiting to happen. There's places where there's a fire station and across the street is another jurisdiction."

    Alicia A. Caldwell can be reached at acaldwell@orlandosentinel.com or 386-851-7924. Kevin P. Connolly can be reached at 386-851-7934 or kconnolly@orlandosentinel.com.
    Last edited by captstanm1; 03-20-2003 at 08:00 AM.
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    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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