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Lealman fire plans include a firetruck

If all goes well, a substation on Park Street will open soon and handle medical crises and fires. To do that the fire board is considering buying a firetruck.

The Lealman Fire Board may buy a new firetruck and put it in a new satellite station across the street from the major commercial area Seminole hopes to annex next month.

While Lealman officials say the additional station would improve its response times to fire and emergency medical calls, they also acknowledge that Seminole's annexation plans play a big part in the decision.

The city of Seminole wants to annex the commercial and residential area west of Park Street between Park Boulevard and Tyrone Boulevard. A referendum is scheduled for June 13.

Most of that land is in the Lealman Fire District and will continue to receive Lealman service even if Seminole annexes it. But those property owners would begin paying their fire taxes to Seminole rather than Lealman.

That could be devastating to the Lealman district's $4.4-million annual budget, because firefighters would have to provide service to the same number of property owners, while receiving taxes from fewer. Taxes for those property owners remaining in the Lealman district but outside Seminole would likely have to increase to make up the loss.

That has made the board especially aggressive about opposing the Seminole annexation. One way to do that is to increase the fire service's profile in the area, giving people there something with which to identify, board members said.

Now, firefighters who have always been active in Lealman's community affairs are becoming even more visible.

For example, the fire union has donated 600 hot dogs for a block party May 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Eagle's Park at 54th Avenue N and Park Street.

While firefighters would normally have attended the party, it's likely that, if asked, this time they'll also be talking about the disadvantages of the proposed annexation.

"The firefighters themselves really want to see this thing go and see this department survive and be a success," Lealman fire Chief Gary Wolff said.

The fire board agreed this month to open the substation on Park Street near the Tyrone area of St. Petersburg. The idea was merely to staff it with a rescue truck that would be responsible for medical emergencies.

The board would have moved the rescue vehicle from Station 19 to the satellite station. That would have cost Lealman taxpayers no extra money other than the lease on the property.

But during a meeting last week, fire officials from the county and the three adjoining municipalities (St. Petersburg, Seminole and Pinellas Park) told Lealman officials that it would be better to staff the station with a truck that could handle both fires and medical emergencies. That way the response time to both fires and medical problems would be faster for people living in that area.

To do that, the Lealman district will have to buy a new firetruck. That's expected to cost between $165,000 and $175,000.

The fire board is scheduled to hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the fire station at 4017 56th Ave. N to decide whether to buy the new truck.

If all goes well, Wolff said, he plans to open the station in a temporary home at 4565 Park St. in about two weeks _ just before Seminole's annexation vote.

"I've got to get the radios in, the computer in," he said.

While the initial outlay for the new station involves renting a building and buying the firetruck, the long-term cost likely would be higher because the board would have to hire new people to staff the station. And board members ultimately would have to find a permanent home for the station.

Wolff said that may have to wait until after the June 13 referendum when voters in that area of the county decide whether they want Seminole to annex them.

If Seminole is successful in its annexation attempts, Lealman may have to rethink its plan, Wolff said.

The chief will not have to worry about furnishing the station or providing cooking utensils for the firefighters. Members of the community have donated most of that.

"I can't believe the support we're getting. It's tremendous," Wolff said. "We're shaking and grooving."