St. Petersburg Times

Zephyrhills gets picky for noncity fire calls
Under the new county agreement, the department will respond to only the most serious calls from outside the city limits.
By MOLLY MOORHEAD, Times Staff Writer
Published July 12, 2005


ZEPHYRHILLS - The city fire department will respond to only the most dire emergency calls in areas outside city limits.

City Council members on Monday evening voted to enter agreements with Pasco County to send trucks to life-threatening medical calls and structure fires, but not respond to less urgent calls such as smoke odors and home assists.

The county used to pay Zephyrhills for emergency protection in the zones beyond city limits, but ended that arrangement in 2002. The county decided to build regional stations and serve the areas itself.

City officials and residents resisted, fearing longer response times.

Since then, the county gradually has reduced its funding to the city, from $440,000 in fiscal year 2002-03, to $95,000 this year. The final contract ends Sept. 30.

In recent weeks, county officials have asked the city to continue providing fire protection in those zones but without compensation. Pasco County fire Chief Anthony Lopinto suggested a "closest unit response" agreement, in which the agency nearest the call would respond.

But City Manager Steve Spina said Monday that the city could not afford such an arrangement.

"Our responsibility is to the citizens of Zephyrhills, and that needs to be our focus," he said.

Council member Clyde Bracknell emphasized that the arrangement needs to be mutually beneficial.

"They use us probably more than we use them," he said.

Under the "mutual aid" agreements approved Monday, the two agencies would assist each other in emergencies.

[Last modified July 12, 2005, 01:26:22]