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Prompted by lower cost, EMS and fire protection for Tierra Verde and Fort DeSoto Park could switch

TIERRA VERDE — If all goes well, the Lealman Fire Department will be responsible for fire and emergency medical service on this island starting in the fall.

Lealman's proposal to take over the service was ranked No. 1 Wednesday by a five-member committee that studied the three submitted bids. The other two bids were from St. Pete Beach and St. Petersburg, which currently oversees fire service to Tierra Verde.

The deal is not final. The Pinellas County Commission, which ultimately oversees fire service on the island because it is in the unincorporated area, must agree to the ranking and give staff members permission to negotiate a deal with Lealman. If a deal is reached, the commission must approve it. If not, then county officials would negotiate with St. Pete Beach.

Whatever is done must be finished by Oct. 1 when Tierra Verde's contract with St. Petersburg expires.

Cost was part of the reason Lealman ended up in first place. It submitted the lowest bid at $1.08 million. St. Pete Beach had the second lowest at $1.18 million. St. Petersburg's was the highest at $1.32 million, but it was 10 percent lower than the current contract, said Paul Murray, head of the Tierra Verde Community Association.

Murray sat on the selection committee with three county officials from the fire and EMS divisions and one from Fort DeSoto Park, which is also served by the Tierra Verde station. They evaluated not only the cost, but the departments' experience and the plans before ranking Lealman on top.

Committee members were impressed with St. Petersburg Chief James Large.

Mike Cooksey, the head of fire service for Pinellas County, said, "The fire chief walks on water. He's got every … certification you could possibly have."

Committee members also discussed the advantage of having St. Petersburg continue providing service because it was familiar with the island and the problems of protecting a barrier island, especially one with only one bridge.

St. Pete Beach has a similar strength because it is also a barrier island. Committee members said a proposal to provide re-entry tags to Tierra Verde residents so they could get past police barriers and return to their homes after a disaster was pro-active and innovative.

But Lealman's plan won out, in part because of cost but also for its proposal to put an older fire truck on the island until a new one could be ordered and arrive. That would mean Tierra Verde would not be without protection during the change of departments. Lealman also proposed placing a four-wheel drive vehicle on Tierra Verde that could be used to run some of the less-serious medical calls to Fort DeSoto Park. That way, the island would have its main fire and EMS protection while the park was also being served.

Lealman guaranteed that the new fire vehicles will have "Tierra Verde" written on the side. Murray said he appreciated that.

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

Prompted by lower cost, EMS and fire protection for Tierra Verde and Fort DeSoto Park could switch 06/13/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 13, 2009 4:30am]

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