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Sand Key wants fire, medical help on island

The 1.7-mile stretch of barrier island known as Sand Key has lots of condominiums, breathtaking views, exclusive lifestyles and slow responses for emergency services.

The closest fire station is on Mandalay Avenue on the north end of Clearwater Beach, across the Sand Key Bridge. According to some Sand Key Civic Association members, that and response times may be good reasons to consider installing emergency response equipment on their part of the island.

Al Lijewski, association founder and past president, said the group will meet with city officials to explore the possibility of putting emergency equipment on property the city owns near the Coast Guard station or parking equipment at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center.

"We don't want favored treatment," Lijewski said. "We just want the same treatment the rest of the city gets."

According to computerized times recorded last year by the Pinellas County 911 Dispatch Center, response to fire and medical calls on Sand Key are slower than some other areas and the citywide average.

The average response time to fire calls _ including emergency and non-emergency calls _ on Sand Key was seven minutes, 12 seconds. That's more than two minutes slower than the 4:53 response time to fire calls on Clearwater Beach. The citywide average was 5:18.

The average time it took to respond to emergency and non-emergency medical calls on Sand Key was 6:41. On Clearwater Beach, the response time was 3:47 _ nearly three minutes faster. The average time to respond to medical calls citywide was 4:21.

Response times are important because they can mean the difference between life and death. A small fire can become an inferno in just minutes. Medical treatment in the first few minutes after a heart problem develops can prevent death or, in the case of a stroke, can stop brain damage before it leads to paralysis or coma.

Clearwater fire Chief Robert Davidson disputed the 911 average response times as relevant because he said they included all calls.

Davidson said he was not concerned about the response times on Sand Key because he thinks the only consideration should be how long it takes to go to emergency calls. He said he figures that is about five minutes.

"That's consistent with other places in the city," Davidson said. "They think they should have their own community and EMS out there on Sand Key. There's not many calls there and half of them are false alarms or something like car fires."

According to computerized 911 records, there were 298 calls on Sand Key last year _ 109 fire calls and 189 medical calls. On Clearwater Beach, there were 848 calls last year.

To Sand Key residents, the number or type of calls is not the point.

"I think the number of calls is irrelevant to someone who is having a heart attack," Lijewski said.

Guy Daines, Pinellas fire and EMS director, said the average response time countywide for fire and medical call response is "excellent" at 4:19.

Fire stations are strategically placed in the county to keep response times low and provide service even to areas away from major business or residential areas, he said.

For instance, when response times to calls in the Gandy area sometimes reached 10 minutes, Daines said, county officials worked with St. Petersburg to provide a station closer to the area. When the same situation developed on Tierra Verde, emergency equipment was put there to lower response times.

Because Sand Key and its nearly 2,600 residences are in the city limits, it would be up to Clearwater to determine if emergency equipment is needed there, he said.