Sarasota Herald Tribune

LETTER to the Editor

Fire-response capabilities strained

Regarding Sarasota "County fire officials trade barbs with union":

The "two-in, two-out" rule requires four people to be present before two of those people can go into a burning building. Sarasota County allows "dual-trained" employees (fire and emergency medical workers) to meet Insurance Services Office requirements to receive a favorable safety rating.

When service demand was less than 10,000 calls per year, having two on a fire engine and two people in an ambulance was OK. But with current service demands exceeding 40,000 calls per year, this methodology has become a flawed approach to the service provision and to ensuring the safety of the responders.

Very often, an ambulance is already out on a call when another call comes in. All too often, there may only be one ambulance available for four or more response areas, partly because the number of ambulances has not increased with the population.

A "normal" structure fire brings 17 to 20 responders to the scene on the first alarm and almost depletes the available response capability in four response areas.

For new development, fire and emergency medical services must be included in the comprehensive planning, just as schools are. The fire department's "Benchmarks" program detailed a methodical approach to fire and EMS staffing, while requiring new residential structures to have sprinkler systems. The cost of the sprinklers is only $1-$1.50 per square foot, by the way.

Sarasota needs significant staffing improvements for fire and EMS delivery. County leaders should stop their micromanagement and let the fire chief do his job: Increase staffing on existing fire engines, perhaps increase staffing on ambulances, add additional response resources to existing stations, implement ordinances requiring residential fire sprinklers and build and staff new stations as required to benefit taxpayers and to protect responders.

Porter T. Shellhammer

The writer is a retired battalion chief with the Sarasota County Fire Department and resides in Sarasota.