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Commission votes to keep Lealman Fire Station 19 fully staffed

County commissioners last week narrowly turned down a staff recommendation to move a paramedic position from one fire station to another and eliminate another position as a cost-saving measure in the upcoming fiscal year.

Instead, commissioners said they would dip into savings so Lealman Fire and Rescue could retain its full staffing at Fire Station 19, 6994 46th Ave. N. County staff members had recommended eliminating one of the three county-paid paramedic positions at that station and moving another to Fire Station 16, a mile away in Kenneth City at 4600 58th St. N. Staff members estimated the savings to countywide taxpayers at about $451,000 with no loss of service.

But Lealman officials had argued that service to the western portion of the Lealman fire district, especially the Five Towns area around 54th Avenue N and Park Street, would suffer. Four of the seven commissioners voted to eliminate the proposed change from consideration when the budget comes up for a final vote next month.

The commission was united in other action related to countywide emergency medical services. Commissioners unanimously agreed that, when it comes time for a final vote, they'll discontinue funding the Squad 26 vehicle in the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue fleet; withdraw funding from Bayflite; and use surplus money from the cities' and districts' current EMS budgets to offset money needed in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The Bayflite funding is a voluntary $625,000 annual payment the county makes. Pinellas is the only bay area county to give Bayflite any money. Elsewhere, Bayflite is entirely funded by user fees. Bayflite no longer stations a helicopter in the county.

None of the proposals have caused the uproar that has been provoked by the Station 19 issue. And, it's likely that debate will continue.

"We think the commission made a good decision, and we're proud to be providing service," said Capt. Jim Millican, spokesman for the Lealman fire department. Millican and others in the department have spent hours lobbying the Lealman community and commissioners in an effort to retain the two paramedic positions.

Others were dismayed by the vote.

"The residents of Kenneth City deserve to have EMS within the city limits … because of the elderly population," Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler said. Kenneth City contracts with Pinellas Park to provide fire service to the town.

Mischler said he did not understand why some commissioners ignored their staff members' data and analysis.

"The whole purpose of the staff is to do the research," Mischler said. "I'm not going to try to guess why they're not going along with the staff's recommendation."

Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis was equally bewildered. Moving the paramedic position, she said, would not affect the first-response service to Five Towns because Station 19 would continue to provide that service. But it would improve service to the mid-portion of the Lealman district by putting paramedics in the center. That, she said, helps not only the residents of her town, but also the Lealman residents who live in that portion of the district, as well as residents in Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg.

"I think it's irresponsible not to do this," Zemaitis said.

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

Commission votes to keep Lealman Fire Station 19 fully staffed 08/21/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 23, 2010 1:55pm]
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