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Questions spring up on fire station

(ran Beach, West editions)

New questions were raised about the safety of firefighters living in the Redington Beach fire station last week, while an extra $130,000 of taxpayers' money was allocated to cover costs associated with the removal of EMS workers from the station.

The removal of the EMS workers will cost Pinellas County, which contracts with the Indian Rocks Fire District to provide area EMS services, nearly an extra $100,000 between now and the end of September, according to Indian Rocks district Chief James Terry, who said the county has already authorized the money.

In addition, four permanent EMS workers will have to be hired by October, he said, if the situation cannot be resolved with the Redington Beaches Fire Department before then. If that happens, there is little chance the Indian Rocks EMS service and the Redington Fire Department will reunite, he said.

The removal of the EMS workers also has had a financial impact on the Redington department. Wednesday its board authorized spending $30,000 to cover overtime and hiring an additional firefighter and to replace the money the Indian Rocks district had been paying for its share of utilities and maintenance costs. The Indian Rocks EMS workers also served as firefighters at Redington Beach and allowed that department to satisfy the county's minimum three-man requirement per fire truck.

On Friday, the Indian Rocks district finished relocating its EMS workers to Parsley's Mobile Home Park in Redington Shores. The move of the workers and their advanced life support equipment was unanimously approved by the Indian Rocks board because of concerns over the safety of their employees and the potential liability to the Indian Rocks district if the workers were injured as a result of structural faults at the fire station.

The structural integrity of the fire station was questioned in two engineering reports that recommended the station be evacuated during Category 1 or greater hurricanes (74 mph winds). The engineering firm Tech Management first recommended two years ago that temporary repairs be considered and that the building be either replaced or completely refurbished within the next two years. The latest report confirmed the first report but did note that the station is still standing.

The three towns served by the fire station _ Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores _ began planning to build a new fire station as a result of that report. Redington Beach voters rejected that idea in a referendum in November, and North Redington Beach has yet to commit to a new station on property it purchased with Redington Shores. That decision could come when the North Redington commission meets May 14. Redington Shores has already committed to cover half the cost of a new station.

Representatives of the three towns that make up the Redington Beaches Fire Board failed to prevent or delay the removal of the EMS workers during a sometimes acrimonious emergency meeting Wednesday of the Indian Rocks board. The Indian Rocks fire board insisted the fire station be repaired according to the original engineering report recommendations before it would consider moving its EMS workers _ and their equipment _ back.

The Indian Rocks district has requested that the Redington department provide apparatus (a fire truck) and an EMT (technician) at the Parsley location, an action that apparently will not happen.

At its own meeting later that day, the Redington board voted to keep its truck and EMT/firefighter and accused the IRFD of breaching its contract to assign an EMS worker at their fire station to provide both advanced life support capabilities and firefighting services. A letter from the board was delivered to the Indian Rocks district Friday that said the Indian Rocks fire district would be liable for "substantial damages" to the Redington department and asked for a 60-day delay.

Indian Rocks Chief James Terry was adamant, however, that his board had made the right decision, citing a conversation he had with Redington Beach building official Bill Keeley in which Keeley agreed with the Indian Rocks position.

Terry said Keeley re-inspected the fire station's second floor and discovered "more extensive termite damage" than he had expected to find, as well as an exterior wall that moved when probed.

"Mr. Keeley told me he understands our concern about the safety of the building for our people and that we were correct in our action," Terry said. Keeley confirmed the conversation.

"Yes, I told the Indian Rocks Fire District they did the right thing in removing their EMS people," Keeley said Friday. He confirmed the second-story west wall does move and said a previously identified settling footer could be contributing to the weakening of the wall.

"The building is a firehouse," Keeley said, saying he was concerned about the safety of the firefighters and his town's liability for a potentially defective building. "The men need to be in place. They do not need to evacuate in high-wind conditions. Their job is to help other people in high-wind conditions."

Friday, Redington fire and town officials were surprised by the statements and scrambled to react to the impact on both their responsibility and liability for the firefighters remaining in the building.

The Redington Beach commission will discuss the issue during its workshop Tuesday at 7 p.m. Town Attorney Dominic Amadio is expected to make a special report on the town's legal status in the safety dispute. Building Commissioner Joanne DeSimone is expected to report cost estimates for temporary and permanent repairs to the building.