KEYNOTER

Fire station for full crew remains on hold for Stock Island
Possible sale of land to city keeps things iffy

By Alyson Matley amatley@keynoter.com

The Monroe County Commission has given the city of Key West until the end of the year to come up with the money to buy 7.5 county-owned acres on Stock Island. But waiting to see if the purchase goes through may mean that the island will not have an adequate fire station for two more years.

"I’d like to have had this problem solved yesterday," said Monroe County Fire Chief Clark Martin. "Stock Island is an area in the county that I have the highest concern about the level of protection. There is a high frequency of calls, and the fact that we can’t sleep a duty crew there 24/7 worries me."

Right now, Stock Island has a one-man fire station that Martin says is "barely more than a garage." Because of the inadequate facility, a fire official is on duty only during the day. After-hour emergencies are handled through the Big Coppitt Key fire station nearly 10 miles up U.S. 1, as well as by local volunteers.

When county offices were relocated from the College Road location to downtown Key West, county officials planned to use the property for a fire station, a public works yard, and records storage. However, the Key West Botanical Garden, the last tract of natural tropical hammock in the Key West area, is vying to purchase that land to expand the gardens. The city of Key West has been attempting to find the funding but, in the meantime, some Stock Island residents are anxious for adequate fire protection.

"The residents of Stock Island would like to see a professional fire station constructed on the county property," said Orin Opperman, president of the Stock Island Business and Homeowners’ Association. "There is no other site that could be up and running in a reasonable time. Mobile homes can burn to the ground in seven minutes."

Stock Island is home to a large number of mobile-home parks.

"Trailers are notorious for very rapid fire spread," said Martin. "Another concern is the close proximity of the trailers to one another."

During negotiations with the city for the sale of the parcel, county officials have agreed to entertain the notion of the city finding another parcel to house the station. However, says Martin, the alternatives presented so far just won’t work.

"There are a couple of parcels, but they’re either too small or they’re too far off U.S. 1. One was way down Shrimp Road. We’d have to go through neighborhoods to respond."

County Mayor Dixie Spehar said the county is continuing to look at potential sites for the station. "We are moving forward looking for other properties," she said. "We are not waiting until December to start looking."