St. Augustine.com

$20 million sought by emergency agencies

By BRYAN NOONAN
Staff Writer

Fire Rescue, EMS and Emergency Management requested around $20 million collectively for this budget year, with representatives from each agency expressing their wish lists, in a budget hearing Thursday morning.

County officials heard the requests and in the coming months will determine what money can be allocated for each agency.

St. Johns County Fire Chief Robert Hall laid out his hopes for Fire Rescue and EMS. Major projects that need funding include adding 29 new positions to Fire Rescue, opening a new fire station at State Road 16 and Interstate 95 and replacing and adding equipment for rescue.

"We've looked hard at ourselves and realize the level of service we're producing needs to be improved," Hall said.

Hall said his plan over the next few years is to have four firefighters manning each engine. He asked for 25 new firefighters this next year to get closer to this goal. He also wants to add a public affairs specialist to work with the media and a human resources specialist.

In total, the salaries of the new positions sought would be $1.77 million.

Hall said respiratory equipment needs to be purchased to prepare against the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But he said the shelf life of the equipment is long, so upkeep is unlikely.

"I hope this is going to be a one-time purchase," he said.

Looking down the list of requests, Joe Vonasek, director of the Office of Management and Budget, questioned Hall on the need for a 42-inch computer monitor, valued at $2,900. Hall said the people who work with maps of the county favored a large screen to illustrate trends.

After talk of Fire Rescue came the needs of EMS. Six new positions need to be added to staff an additional rescue unit, Hall said.

He also stressed the need for new equipment in communications, saying most of its Motorola equipment is obsolete and the parts are no longer made to repair them.

There is also a request for tower maintenance, which prompted a talk on how fire rescue and the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office could share resources. Hall said talks are planned with the sheriff's office to see where they can share towers and other communication tools.

A hearing with Emergency Management followed, with Ray Ashton, St. Johns County director of Emergency Management, expressing next year's needs.

In a short discussion, Ashton asked for a planner to be added to the staff, a new printer and computer, a new generator for the special needs emergency shelter and $472,000 to harden Durbin Creek Elementary School so it could be used as a hurricane shelter.