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High Point fire station gets new tenants as St. Petersburg takes over from Pinellas Park

Like any typical Monday morning, Pinellas Park firefighters from Station 36 drove their yellow-green engine to the fire administration building to hand over payroll information.

When they returned, Pinellas Park Fire Station 36 was no more.

A red fire engine sat in the bay. St. Petersburg firefighters, Pinellas County employees and delivery men scurried around the building unpacking new furniture and installing washers, dryers and other equipment in what had become St. Petersburg Fire Station 14.

The official transformation took place about 11:30 a.m. when St. Petersburg pulled its engine into the building for the first time and county officials flipped a switch making that city responsible for all fire and emergency medical calls in the area covered by the station at 13801 Evergreen Ave. in the unincorporated High Point area.

The change in station number was an indicator to others that the transfer had happened. Each of the county's 18 fire departments is assigned certain numbers. The vehicles in a station are also given those numbers — Engine 14, for example — so people know who owns what vehicles at a scene and where they came from.

The transfer of a fire station from one department to another is rare in Pinellas County — the last was in 2009 when the Lealman Fire Department underbid St. Petersburg for the contract to provide fire service to Tierra Verde.

In this case, county officials, who contract with various fire departments to provide fire protection for some areas of unincorporated Pinellas, had opened up the High Point area to bidders. St. Petersburg offered to provide both fire and EMS service to the eastern portion of High Point for $900,000 a year, about $400,000 less than Pinellas Park had been charging.

St. Petersburg officials say they were able to offer the deal because they are a big enough department to not have to hire new people to staff the station. They simply shifted one of the crews from Fire Station 13. (Pinellas Park will spread the Station 36 crews throughout its other three stations.)

The county jumped at the St. Petersburg bid and in July told Pinellas Park it would have to leave Station 36 on Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The county owns the building.

Pinellas Park spent weeks clearing out the station. By Monday morning, little was left — things such as the beds, recliners, tables and chairs that were used until the end. By about 8:45 a.m., all were gone, leaving no place to sit other than the bumpers of the fire engine. Firefighters spent part of the time cleaning out the refrigerator, vacuuming, mopping and emptying — for the first time in years — the canister to the central vacuum system.

The morning gave them time to reminisce about a station that had become somewhat legendary in Pinellas Park firefighter lore.

"Thirty-six was always famous for very interesting calls," acting Lt. Joel Priebe said. "It was talked about at parties and at union meetings."

Built in 1981 for the High Point Volunteer Fire Department, it was first known as the "country club" station. That was in part because it was at the second hole of the Airco Golf Course (now closed) but also because of its high-tech design, such as the central vacuum, which still works but has no hoses.

The station has historically been busy with calls that range from plane crashes at the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, to jumpers off the Bayside Bridge, to horrific crashes on the Howard Frankland.

Firefighters tell of having to land two helicopters on the Howard Frankland to take those injured in a massive wreck to nearby hospitals while officers from the Florida Highway Patrol yelled to hurry up and clear the way because traffic was tied up. They tell of another incident when a plane had an emergency landing. Paramedics then had to ask each passenger if he or she needed to go to the hospital. There were 156 refusals.

And the calls are long. One call to the Howard Frankland can take a minimum of 45 minutes just to get there and back. Two such calls and the engine has to detour on the way back to the station to get refueled.

The high volume is something St. Petersburg's firefighters discovered quickly. Their first call of 12 that day was to the nearby Hampton Inn for a report of a body. The crew on duty ran the call while fellow firefighters, who had volunteered to help on their day off, stayed at the station to vacuum, unpack, set up about $15,370 worth of beds, recliners, tables, chairs, exercise equipment, dishes, cutlery and other equipment so no one had to sleep on the floor Monday night.

Although it was bittersweet for Pinellas Park's firefighters to return and find St. Petersburg in possession, it gave them an opportunity to give a tour of the station as well as hand over and test the special wrench used to open the purple reclaimed water hydrant.

It also gave them a chance to take away their last two belongings — Priebe's personal coffeemaker he had brought from home that morning because the station coffeemaker had been packed and moved. And a half-eaten jar of peanut butter.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

High Point fire station gets new tenants as St. Petersburg takes over from Pinellas Park 10/04/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 4, 2013 4:49pm]

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