Sheriff Negotiating With 4 Broward, Florida Cities To Take Over Fire-Rescue

The same day the county commission voted to turn over control of the county fire-rescue department to Sheriff Ken Jenne, he confirmed that he was already talking with four cities about taking over their departments

The same day the county commission voted to turn over control of the county fire-rescue department to Sheriff Ken Jenne, he confirmed that he was already talking with four cities about taking over their departments.

The question is: Which four?

No city officials would admit their departments are on the table, but on Friday Jenne met briefly with the presidents of fire unions from 12 small-to-medium-sized cities.

Union leaders from North Lauderdale, Lighthouse Point and Oakland Park said they are interested in joining the sheriff's fold, citing better pay and benefits, more opportunities to advance and the chance to learn special skills. And four other cities -- Lauderdale Lakes, Parkland, Margate and Dania Beach -- might be in a position to look hard at a merger in the near future.

"If ever in the last 25 years Broward County had the opportunity for consolidation of fire-rescue service delivery, now would be the time," said County Administrator Roger Desjarlais, who will continue to oversee the department until the sheriff takes over Oct. 1. "We now have fire rescue being managed by the person who is not only the chief executive, but also the policymaker. It makes decision-making that much simpler."

Previously, the county administrator oversaw the fire-rescue department, but he had to persuade county commissioners to approve any moves he wanted to make.

At first glance, Dania Beach's 53-member department might be an easy, first acquisition for the sheriff, because he already provides police service for the city, and the city manager and the mayor both are retired Sheriff's Office employees, but union president Rich Sieb said his members are happy right where they are.

"We have one of the finest fire departments in the county and one of the best response times," he said. "I don't think it can be beat."

North Lauderdale firefighters want to join the county system, and the city already uses a public safety model similar to the one Jenne proposed countywide. The highest-ranking fire official, Assistant Chief Rodney Turpel, reports to Sheriff's District Chief Louis Cavallo. North Lauderdale has been paying the Sheriff's Office for police protection since 2001.

City Manager Mark Bates said the city commission is not working on a deal with the sheriff to send its 42 firefighter/medics to the county, but Fire-Rescue Lt. Randy Bramos said it is only a matter of time.

"Our membership is 100 percent for one big system and we have been for a long time," Bramos said.

A merger between North Lauderdale and Margate's department failed last year, but Bramos said he thinks Jenne has the political skill to forge such a complex deal.

"The city knows we want to go," he said. "It's one of those things that you're not going to stop, so you might as well just get on board and make sure it goes OK for you."

Turpel said a lot of the smaller cities should think about banding together because fire departments are expensive to operate and small cities don't have the tax base to support them on their own.

Pompano Beach union president John DeVoe finds it hard to believe that Jenne will save the county fire-rescue department. It was facing extinction as more and more unincorporated land was annexed into cities and, until recently, was trying to transform itself into specialty teams that would focus on things like technical rescue and hazardous material calls.

Several cities "fired Broward County Fire Rescue in the past 10 years," DeVoe said. "It's not that Broward County firefighters were fat, stupid, weak and slow. The county couldn't properly administer the service."

"I can't imagine why we'd want to join with them," he said. "Ken Jenne is by all reports a hell of a politician and seemingly good at doing the sheriff thing, but we're very, very happy being Pompano Beach professional firefighters."

Oakland Park City Manager John Stunson said the city sent the county a letter saying they wanted to maintain control of their own department, but the firefighters are keeping an open mind about a Jenne takeover.

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