LEALMAN — Fire Chief Rick Graham has been getting a number of calls recently from job-hunting firefighters who figure his department will have openings if a contract to serve Tierra Verde is hammered out.
Graham tells them he will have 12 openings if all goes according to plan. But when he tells the callers they'll also serve rotations at Lealman's stations, some of the busiest in the county, many say, "never mind."
Graham said those callers are victims of one of the many misconceptions about Lealman's proposed contract with Tierra Verde.
The confusion increased recently when St. Pete Beach, which was ranked second in the bidding, raised questions about Lealman's proposal and the county briefly considered rebidding the contract. But the county decided to let Lealman's proposal stand. If the two can hammer out details, then Lealman will take over Fire Station 2. If they can't, then the county will give St. Pete Beach a chance at the contract.
The chance to bid on the contract arose recently when Tierra Verde residents approached Lealman about the possibility of taking over fire service on the island. The longstanding contract with St. Petersburg is due to end Sept. 30 and residents thought it might be time for a change. Pinellas County, which is responsible for providing fire service to the unincorporated portion of the island, opened the bidding to all.
Lealman came in with the low bid of $1.08 million and won the right to negotiate. Negotiations began Tuesday. It is unclear what parts of Lealman's plan might change during the process, but here's how Graham envisions the situation:
Tierra Verde will pay for all equipment and vehicles. That will include at least a new engine (the current one is about 10 years old and is jointly owned with St. Petersburg) and may include an all terrain vehicle because of the need to occasionally go onto the beaches or other off-road areas at Fort DeSoto Park, which the Tierra Verde station serves.
Lealman will hire 12 firefighters, who will be paid with the money coming from Tierra Verde.
They will be paid entry-level wages as is Lealman's practice. But entry level wages do not necessarily equate to entry level employees, Graham said. At least some, if not all, of those hired will have experience, especially considering the fact that the district plans to give preference to firefighters being laid off by other departments.
Although the firefighters will be Lealman employees, they may wear Tierra Verde uniforms when stationed there. All Lealman firefighters will be rotated through Station 2 on the island and will also serve shifts at Stations 18 and 19 in Lealman.
The Tierra Verde engine will have four firefighters, although with vacations, illnesses, training and other activities, only three may be present at times. Also stationed in Tierra Verde will be two officers to oversee the operations.
When Engine 2 is out on a call or the station needs help, St. Pete Beach and St. Petersburg will respond.
That's how it works now at Tierra Verde. It's also the standard operating procedure across Pinellas where contracts provide automatic backup when the nearest unit is unavailable or needs help.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.