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Redingtons face crisis at firehouse

Published Sep. 13, 2005

(ran Beach edition)

Questioning the safety of the Redington Beaches fire station, the Indian Rocks Fire District has voted unanimously to remove its EMS workers from the fire station as of Friday.

The Indian Rocks district provides emergency medical services to Redington Shores, Redington Beach and North Redington Beach. If the Indian Rocks EMS personnel don't work in the station anymore, the fire trucks could have too few people on board to meet minimum standards to be part of a mutual aid network.

In other words, the Redington Beaches fire service could be facing a crisis.

The EMS workers will be relocated to Parsley's Mobile Home Park in Redington Shores. There will be no reduction in emergency medical services to residents of Redington Shores, North Redington Beach or Redington Beach, according to Indian Rocks fire board chairman Thomas McKeon.

"The new location has been carefully chosen to allow for no diminution in services and no appreciable increase in costs," McKeon said in a press release issued Thursday. The move was prompted, he said, because "structural deficiencies create an unnecessary and avoidable foundation for potential liability."

The three Redingtons have been struggling for more than a year to decide how to replace an aging fire station built in the 1950s in Redington Beach.

The Indian Rocks action drew immediate anger from members of the Redington Beaches Fire Board on Thursday, as well as accusations that the board and the county were conspiring to take over and consolidate fire service throughout the county. The board did not indicate that any repairs to the building would be made.

Instead, the fire board instructed its members to consult with their respective town attorneys to try to block the Indian Rocks move and report back during an emergency meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m. at North Redington Beach Town Hall.

Redington Beaches Fire Chief Marty Forster is also expected to report during that meeting how he will replace the three EMS workers who now ride on the Redington Beaches fire truck.

The presence of the Indian Rocks EMS workers on that truck enables the Redington Beach fire service to qualify for "advanced life support" response and participate in the county's fire and rescue mutual aid network, and also makes up one of the three firefighters required to meet "minimum" fire service standards set by Pinellas County.

If the Redington Beaches fire service were to fall below that standard, the county would have to intervene, Pinellas County Fire and EMS director Guy Daines said last week. "We are very concerned," Daines said.

Madeira Beach City Manager Kim Leinbach is also concerned and says he would not want a Redington Beach fire truck answering mutual aid calls in his city if its rolls with fewer than three firefighters. He said the Madeira Beach Fire Department maintains a crew of four on each of its trucks.

The Indian Rocks district also wants the Redingtons to provide their relocated EMS workers with "apparatus" (a fire truck) and an EMT (emergency medical technician) as their part of the contract.

If the Redington Fire Department were to meet those two demands, they would be left only with their spare fire truck and one firefighter per shift.

"None of this would have happened if the "C' word had not been used," Indian Rocks Fire District Chief James Terry said Friday. He was referring to a public comment made by Redington Beach Mayor Mark Deighton that the fire station in his town had been "condemned." This same word was used in recent political campaign literature by Redington Shores Mayor J.J. Beyrouti.

Last month, the Indian Rocks district formally requested that the Redington Beaches Fire Board certify that the fire station was, in fact, safe for their EMS workers. An engineer who reported two years ago that the building should be replaced before another hurricane season was hired to re-examine the fire station.

The second Tech Management report released last week again stated that firefighters and EMS workers should not be housed in the building during Category 1 hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or more). He also found the same structure problems cited in his first report: lack of roof tie-downs, a sinking foundation at one corner of the building, and evidence of continued termite damage. He recommended interim repairs be made, that the building be re-inspected every six months, and that the building be either rebuilt or replaced within two years.

"It would be a prudent course of action to avoid any potential liability," the Indian Rocks Fire District attorney Jeff Albinson told that fire board last week.

"There is nothing in your contract (with the Redington Beaches fire association) that requires you to put people in that building."

Albinson told the board that they were liable for any injuries caused its employees due to the "negligence" of the Redington fire association.

"We are not going to endorse this report or sign off on the safety of the building," McKeon said. In his letter to the Redington Beaches Fire Association, he cited the contract's "hold harmless" clause and the absence of any requirement that the EMS workers be housed specifically in the fire station.

"With no real repairs having been made, nor progress achieved on a new building, in the 17 months that have passed since the first report, we are not optimistic for a speedy correction," McKeon wrote.

Before discussing the Indian Rocks district's action, the Redington Beaches Fire Board again tackled the issue of a new station. A recent offer by private developers to build a new station in North Redington Beach was rejected by representatives of Redington Beach and Redington Shores.

Redington Beach Mayor Deighton also firmly stated that his town would not participate in the capital costs of building a new station. He and his fellow commissioner Brian Mathers invited the other two towns to make an "offer" of contracted fire service that they could compare to one provided by Madeira Beach.

Beyrouti called upon North Redington Beach to make up its mind whether or not it will join Redington Shores in building a new station. The North Redington commission will meet in workshop session Tuesday at 7 p.m. to discuss both fire issues, as well as whether to contract with the Sheriff's Office for police services.

Ironically, the other fire service option available to the three towns is to join the Indian Rocks Fire District. If the three towns joined, the district has offered to build a new station, charging residents of the Redingtons $120 a year per household for fire service.

Both Terry and McKeon denied emphatically that the removal of the EMS workers had any political motive.

"We gave them a proposal at their request," McKeon said. "We are not interested in taking over the Redingtons."