Fire district plans for growth


NORTH PORT -- With a 15 percent increase each year of fire and emergency calls to the North Port Fire Rescue District, an estimated 10 new fire stations will be needed in the future if the city continues to grow steadily.

North Port Fire Chief Bill Taaffe told Growth Committee members Thursday that calls have risen each year as the city's population grows.

In 2001, there were 3,133 calls and in 2002 there were 3,177. In 2003, there were 3,366, and in 2004 there were 4,101. So far this year, the district responded to 2,081 calls.

To address growth needs, the fire district added six new firefighter/EMTs in 2002. Three new firefighter/EMTs were hired in 2003, along with a second deputy chief. In 2004, nine new firefighter/EMTs were added and six new firefighter/paramedics were added in April.

The department also added a new pumper truck in 2002. A 6X6 brush truck was added in 2003. In 2004, there were two replacement pumper trucks, three replacement rescue (ambulances) and two new supervisors' vehicles added. In 2004, the district purchased a new 6X6 brush truck. In 2005, a command vehicle and a rescue was replaced and a new rescue was added. In June, the district will add a new 3,000 gallon fire tanker to the fleet with the help of a $120,000 federal grant.

According to the city's Comprehensive Plan, which serves as a guide to government community standard operation of the city, reviewed by the state, the district must maintain an average response time of six minutes per incident. Response times may vary based on circumstances such as the time of year and the change in social/demographic factors. The district is running close to the mandate with an average response time of 6.19 minutes per call.

Taaffe said some areas of North Port present a challenge such as Toledo Blade, Price and Sumter boulevards where there are only two lanes for traffic which are generally congested. The city also does not have connector bridges across canals linking populated neighborhoods such as Salford Boulevard to the Cranberry Boulevard area. This which would provide an alternate route for firefighters and police officers to respond to homes more quickly than the two existing routes at U.S. 41 or Price Boulevard.

While the third fire station at Haberland Boulevard on the east end of town is in the works for the district, factors for planning new fire stations include examining new growth service areas, increasing response times and major development plans for a service area. These elements occurred during the past year in the Haberland Boulevard service area. In addition to existing and newly built homes in the neighborhoods of Haberland, San Meto and Atwater boulevards, the new fire station will serve new developments such as a planned community of 680 new units near Price Boulevard and 780 new units along Toledo Blade Boulevard. It would respond also to calls at the commercial developments along Toledo Blade Boulevard.

Taaffe said the district will maintain an average response time of six minutes to 90 percent of all emergencies within the primary response area of each station and an average of eight minutes to 80 percent of all emergency calls outside the primary response area.

The fire district is proposing future fire stations be located as closely in conformance with recommendations of a public safety study done in 2004. Future stations will include a ladder truck at stations covering commercial or multifamily residential areas.

While no fire district can provide "seamless protection," Taaffe said the North Port Fire Rescue District provides adequate fire protection to the residents.

If the fire proposal is passed by commissioners, it would address growth needs in the city as far as fire protection, he said. However, the city currently is still struggling with how to pay for more than $300 million in road and water (utility) improvements.

You can e-mail Elaine Allen-Emrich at eallen@sun-herald.com.

By ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH

North Port Assistant Editor