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Palm Harbor, East Lake fire rescue squads dodge budgetary bullet

The 93,000 residents served by Palm Harbor Fire Rescue and East Lake Fire Rescue will see no reduction in emergency services in the upcoming fiscal year.

An agreement negotiated by Pinellas County and the fire districts calls for both departments to retain all their vehicles and personnel — and get a few dollars extra to cover rising costs.

"Each city and fire district is paid for the allowable costs of the ALS (advanced life support) first responder services including paramedic salaries and benefits,'' said Craig Hare, Pinellas EMS division chief. "In some cases, the funding went up if their allowable costs went up. This could be for any increase in the fire districts costs such as health insurance or pensions.''

The result for Palm Harbor Fire Chief Jim Angle was status quo.

"We didn't lose a unit, didn't gain a unit,'' he said.

The department which has four stations, will receive $1.7 million, an increase over last year's $1.5 million.

Fire officials throughout Pinellas have been concerned about negotiations with the county, which had forecast an $18 million deficit in EMS funding for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Angle said going into the talks, he was nervous "they wanted to cut us to three'' first responder advanced life support units out of the five in the fleet (the county funds four units, the fifth is paid for by the fire district).

"We tried to work with the county,'' he said. "We understood they had a shortfall.''

Steve Rogers, deputy chief of East Lake Fire Rescue, which has three advanced life support engines and three stations, said his department was "never sure'' it would get enough funding.

"We were most concerned about Squad 57,'' a specialized fire engine.

But officials were relieved when they learned they would receive $1.2 million, an increase of $8,584 over last year.

Hare said response time and coverage studies were conducted to ascertain if unit reductions could safely be made in Palm Harbor and East Lake, and the answer was no.

For example, he said although East Lake has a low call volume, it takes quite a bit of time to get back into the Lansbrook and Ridgemoor subdivisions.

"After lengthy study, the fire districts and county EMS jointly determined that service would fall below the countywide standard of 41/2-minute average response time to 911 medical emergencies and so the reductions were not recommended,'' Hare said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Palm Harbor, East Lake fire rescue squads dodge budgetary bullet 08/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 7:49pm]
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