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  1. #1
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post Estero Fla--Fire Dept tries to outrace community growth

    Estero Fire District races to keep pace with community's growth

    Thursday, April 10, 2003
    By PAUL HERRERA, phherrera@naplesnews.com

    In two months since firefighters first moved into Estero's newest station on Corkscrew Road, calls have kept the group busy.

    The station, located in front of the Stoneybrook community approximately a half mile east of Interstate 75, is now the primary facility responding to emergencies in the fast-growing neighborhoods of the eastern Estero Fire District.

    "We've reduced response time out there by somewhere between 70 and 80 percent," said Estero Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield.

    With huge chunks of land permitted for development in the eastern edge of the fire district, and potentially thousands more acres and homes winding through the development pipeline, Merrifield said the growth eventually will require another station farther east to meet needs.

    Since last March, the fire district has celebrated the opening of stations on U.S. 41 and Three Oaks Parkway slightly south of Corkscrew Road prior to moving into the Stoneybrook station. Next spring, another station will open, this one to be located on U.S. 41 in the southern part of the district on land provided by developers of the Coconut Point Town Center.

    "We've been playing catch-up for a while now," Merrifield said. "The community has literally exploded over the last 10 years."

    The new station shaves several miles and minutes from response time to communities east of the interstate. Communities like Wildcat Run, Miromar Lakes, Grandezza and Stoneybrook are all well within a five-minute response goal, said Estero Fire Marshal Michael Cato. Those communities will grow by thousands of new residents within the next few years. Farther east, a community called The Habitat is permitted and ready to begin construction.

    "I've got nine years of fire experience in Southwest Florida and this is probably the fastest-growing fire district around," said Rob Medina, one of 12 firefighters working in three weekly shifts at the Stoneybrook station.

    In addition, the station is equipped with a new brush truck to transport firefighters to fires well off the road in eastern Lee County. On Wednesday morning, the station's crew washed mud and dirt off a brush truck that assisted on a 500-acre fire in east Bonita Springs on Tuesday night.

    The public is invited for the grand opening and dedication this morning. Estero Fire officials will offer tours of the station once the event begins at 9 a.m.

    Following the Coconut Point station, the next station could be part of a fire training complex located several miles east of the interstate on Corkscrew Road. The fire district is looking for a tract of up to 40 acres of land where new firefighters could be trained and veterans can keep up with required refreshers and new skills courses.

    Merrifield declined to say how much the district could spend on the acquisition, citing that it could hurt negotiations and make a future purchase more expensive to the agency. Early estimates put the cost of the entire project at $11 million.

    Currently most firefighters use facilities in Fort Myers and points farther north — sometimes as far as Ocala — to update their training. Cato said the new facility will provide equipment and space to accommodate the mainstays of fire training, such as a burn building for practice fires, a drill tower and road courses for emergency vehicles, as well as training for high-rise rescues and more specialized tasks for Southwest Florida.

    "This is going to be the most significant facility anywhere in Southwest Florida," Cato said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    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.


  2. #2
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post No Tax Increase for Estero

    Estero fire millage may go unchanged

    Chief not asking for any increase

    By DENISE L. SCOTT, dscott@news-press.com


    Estero Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield recommends maintaining the current 1.79 millage rate for the approximately $5.1 million proposed 2003-04 budget.

    The Estero Fire Rescue Board of Commissioners tonight will set a tentative millage rate and a date for the budget’s first public hearing in September.

    “It’s a pretty straight-up budget,” Merrifield said of the $5,061,300 proposal. “Not a lot of changes. We’re allowing for additional funds to open up the Coconut Point Station and additional people.” IF YOU GO
    • WHAT: Estero Fire Rescue Board of Commissioners monthly meeting
    • WHEN: 6 p.m. today
    • WHERE: Estero United Methodist Church fellowship building, Lord’s Way, Estero
    • INFORMATION: Call 947-3473.


    Merrifield said the millage rate has held steady at 1.79 for the past three years, meaning property owners pay $1.79 per $1,000 of assessed property value. A property owner with land valued at $100,000 would pay $179 for fire district taxes.

    “I made a promise to the board that I will continue to offer that,” he said. “Everybody wants to make sure you hold the line on taxes. Ultimately, it’s the board’s decision.”

    The board will also vote on hiring five new firefighters and one part-time special projects maintenance coordinator. Merrifield said those salaries are included in the proposed millage rate.

    “The five (firefighters) are timed for the benefit of the new Coconut Point Station,” he said, referring to a fire station to open next summer on the U.S. 41 site of the proposed Coconut Point Town Center.

    Each station must have at least nine firefighters to operate, Merrifield said. The other four have already been hired.

    “Even then, it’s a bare-bones crew,” he said. “It’s a decision the board has to make. How fast do you want to grow?”

    Any additional firefighter hires beyond those five would each require a millage increase of .025 mills, he said.

    All the new hires will be spread throughout the stations so they’re mixed in with veteran firefighters.

    “We try to bring these people on ahead of time so we can get them trained and acclimated,” he said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    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.

  3. #3
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post

    Bonita Daily News

    Estero Fire Rescue considers self-insurance program to help cut costs

    Sunday, August 3, 2003

    By CHRISTINA HOLDER, clholder@naplesnews.com



    Estero Fire Rescue is considering a self-insurance program to help cut costs and maintain the district's budget in the future.

    District officials currently use Aetna insurance company, but said because of rising costs caused by growth, it might be beneficial to switch to a self-insurance program.

    The self-insurance program would require the district to enter a contractual agreement with an insurance company such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Under a self-insured program, the district would be financially responsible for paying medical expenses and claims. More traditional insurance plans put those responsibilities on the shoulders of an agency.

    "You would hire a self-insurance administrator, and they administer the program," Estero Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield said.

    Merrifield said he is researching the feasibility of switching and said the earliest he would seriously consider the program would be late this year. He's had discussions with Edison Insurance Agency in Fort Myers.

    "We've got a lot on our plate now," he said. "We are allowing a lot of time to pass."

    In the past, fire districts in Bonita Springs and San Carlos Park both have considered self-insurance programs.

    Ray Delo, San Carlos Park assistant fire chief, said he researched self-insurance programs for his district a few years ago when he sat on a Lee County insurance committee. The committee formed to examine whether the program would work for several agencies.

    "The county wanted to see if it was feasible for all the fire departments, police, libraries, mosquito control — if all of them got together and had the same policy, if it would save," he said. "Surpassingly, it ended up that there was no saving."

    Currently, the San Carlos Park fire district uses Great-West Healthcare.

    Among the difficulties the committee members found was billing several agencies listed under a single policy.

    Another difficulty, Delo said, is that a single major medical bill could deplete a district's health insurance budget.

    "It'd be kind of dangerous to self-insure," he said. "God forbid someone gets cancer."

    Merrifield said if the district does opt for a self-insurance program, it would also get a policy for catastrophic insurance.

    Delo said he thought a self-insurance program would work, but the experience showed him that such programs work best at companies that have a large number of employees.

    "Usually you get a large group, and the cost is less," he said.

    Merrifield agreed.

    "Other agencies have done this once they reach a certain size," he said.

    The Bonita Springs fire district, which currently uses Great-West Healthcare, also has considered a self-insurance program in the past.

    "We discussed the whole concept, but we just decided against it," Administrative Assistant Iris Roman said. "Right now we are happy with Great-West."

    Merrifield said one thing he's concerned with is cost.

    "My driving issue is cost," he said. "Right now, I'm paying boatloads of money to an insurance company. Instead of giving all that money to an insurance company, we would bear those costs
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    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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