Tierra Verde talks with Lealman about fire service, irks St. Petersburg chief

LEALMAN — The fire district in this unincorporated area is considering extending its reach — all the way to Tierra Verde, about 15 miles south.

Lealman fire Chief Rick Graham said Wednesday that he met with representatives of the Tierra Verde Community Association about the possibility of supplying fire and emergency service to residents there.

Lealman would not actually send firefighters or paramedics to each call, but would staff and manage a station on Tierra Verde. Residents there would pay for the service and any necessary vehicles and equipment.

Tierra Verde contracts with St. Petersburg for fire service, but the island's residents have sued the city in an attempt to overturn an annexation of commercial property at the tip of Tierra Verde. The community association's board also voted in January not to renew the fire contract with St. Petersburg when it ends Sept. 30.

They asked the county, which oversees such contracts for unincorporated areas, to open Tierra Verde's fire and EMS service to bids.

Community association member Jack Parker could not be reached for comment. But St. Petersburg fire Chief James Large was irked by the situation.

In a May 5 letter to the Pinellas County Fire Administration, which oversees such contracts, Large said the city had provided exemplary service to the island's residents at a reasonable cost.

"It is our desire to continue both the process and service delivery to Tierra Verde in the same manner as past years," Large wrote.

But "we will not participate in a bid process that is the result of issues unrelated to issues of public safety, fire services or possible cost savings, and which has the potential to compromise the level of service that the residents of Tierra Verde have grown to expect."

Large said that if the county refused to renew the contract, then his letter would be notice of St. Petersburg's intention to terminate the Tierra Verde agreement.

St. Petersburg's First Deputy Mayor Tish Elston agreed Friday that the city would likely not bid on the contract.

"I think it's somewhat futile," Elston said.

Graham said Lealman is interested in providing the service depending on the requirements of the contract.

Graham said he also wants to make sure the contract would cover all costs so Lealman taxpayers don't inadvertently end up on the hook for any expenditures.

In 2008, the Tierra Verde fire station handled 567 EMS calls and responded to 137 fire-related calls.

Not all of those calls were on Tierra Verde. The station handles calls for Fort De Soto and other nearby areas.

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

Tierra Verde talks with Lealman about fire service, irks St. Petersburg chief 05/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 9, 2009 4:31am]

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