It's going to be a little more crowded at Apopka Fire Station 5 when it opens in July of 2017, and for good reason.
In order to solve a longstanding manpower issue, be in compliance with a federal policy and a state law, the City Council gave unanimous consensus to increase the number of new firefighter positions on the Apopka Fire Department roster from 12 to 18 to staff the new station.
AFD Fire Chief Chuck Carnesale made his case at the City Council budget workshop yesterday.
“I was on the job (as Fire Chief) about two weeks and didn’t get a chance to review the budget properly,” he said. “I have since had time to look at this budget and speak to my staff, and I have come across a deficiency to bring to your attention. We have not added a single new-firefighter position in 15 years. (But) Apopka has added 15,000 residents (according to US Census data), and annexed 10 square miles of land. We have also increased in calls (for service) by 350 per year. Every day we are running more accidents on the 414, 429, 451 and The Wekiva Parkway. That’s putting pressure on our services."
After outlining AFD’s staffing challenges, Carnesale proposed what he believes it will take to overcome the issue.
“We have 75 firefighters at the AFD, which is 3 shifts of 25 firefighters… 24 hours on and 48 hours off. We were proposing 12 new firefighters for Station 5, keeping in mind that is 3 shifts and 4 firefighters per shift. We are going to propose six additional (firefighters) for a total of 18 for Station 5.”
Part of the reason for additional firefighters is a firefighting standard called "two-in, two-out" according to Carnesale.
Two-in, two-out refers to a United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) policy that mandates firefighters never go into a dangerous situation in a fire or rescue incident alone, and that there be two firefighters outside the hazard area to initiate a rescue of the firefighters inside should they need to be rescued during the incident where only one crew is operating in the hazard area. The State of Florida adopted the OSHA policy and made it a law.
Carnesale also pointed out this is not an “ISO” issue, which stands for the Insurance Services Office, a private corporation that evaluates industries for insurance rating purposes. Every evaluation results in a rating from 1 to 10 for the evaluated department. A rating of 1 is the best.
“This does not affect ISO. We are a Class 1 (rated) ISO fire department. We are talking about manpower and how we can effectively do our jobs. ISO is about measuring how quickly we can get a fire truck on the scene. We’re doing that right now.”
The proposed budget for the AFD is $11,466,788; which includes the construction of Fire Station #5, and the additional 18 firefighters.
Commissioner Kyle Becker sees this as a necessity for the new station.
"Chief Carnesale’s request for additional resources was clearly a need for the new Station 5, and will go to ensure adequate staffing for the large area it will serve. The volume of calls in Rock Springs Ridge and Northwest Recreation Complex alone was eye-opening for me. Station 2 which currently covers that geographic area ran 1,200 calls in the last year, 400, or a third, of the calls were to Rock Springs Ridge alone, of which 80-90% were EMS. Having these additional resources to maintain the two-in, two-out standard is critical to the safety of both residents and the firefighters themselves."
Commissioner Doug Bankson agreed with Becker, and looked to the future when The City of Apopka will be adding Fire Station 6.
"Safety is our first priority and responsibility and with the new state regulations and presentation from the fire chief it is obvious that we must make these additions. We also need to be forward thinking as within a couple years we will again have to add not only a sixth station but additional 18 firefighters as well as equipment. We are catching up from the lean years with much infrastructure needs, and it is in the best interest of our citizens to get ahead of the curve. This predicates our need to return to the pre-economic downturn levels of property tax as well as factoring in impact fees so that new growth can help pay for added services. We must find a balance between services and low taxes. This is not only beneficial to our citizens, but through economic developement we can create new revenues that will continue to keep our services high and taxes low."