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Lealman substation to handle fires, too

(ran West, South, Beach editions)

If all goes well, the station at 4565 Park St. will open soon and handle both medical crises and fires.

Even before the new satellite station has opened, the Lealman Fire Board plans to upgrade it to handle fires as well as medical emergencies.

When the 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 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 for the station to have 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, Lealman fire Chief Gary Wolff said.

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

The Fire Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at 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 at 4565 Park St. in about two weeks.

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

While the initial outlay for the new station involves the rent and a fire truck, the long-term cost likely will be higher. That will be when the board has to hire new people to staff the station and when board members look for a permanent home for it.

Wolff said that will have to wait until after the June 13 referendum, when voters in that area of the county decide whether they want to be annexed into Seminole.

The attempted annexation as much as the need for quicker response times to fire and emergency medical calls prompted the Lealman board to decide to open a satellite station.

The city of Seminole wants to annex much of the commercial area along Park Street south to Tyrone Boulevard.

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 be paying their fire taxes to Seminole rather than Lealman.

That could be financially 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, but would be getting taxes from fewer of them. Taxes for 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 is to increase the fire service's profile in the area to give people there something with which to identify.

So 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 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 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 talk 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," Wolff said.

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