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$7.5-million sought for Seminole fire budget

The city staff has finished its preliminary fire budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The proposal, which calls for spending about $7.5-million, is the most expensive item in Seminole's $11-million budget.

And the bulk of that money doesn't go toward fighting fires. Today's firefighter spends more time rescuing injured motorists and resuscitating heart attack victims than putting out fires.

Last year Seminole Fire Rescue responded to 9,857 calls, with medical calls totaling 7,200. The remaining 2,657 were fire-related. Only 4 percent were actual fires.

Compare those numbers with the 500 to 600 calls, mainly for brush fires, the department got in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The proposed budget is about $500,000 more than last year's.

The role of fire agencies across the country has changed drastically. No longer just responsible for putting out fires, firefighters now respond to emergencies of all kinds, including those dealing with terrorism, hazardous materials and medical crises.

The fire industry has been evolving during the past 30 years, said Randy Bruegman, first vice president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and fire chief for Clackamas County in Oregon. In the old days, a hose, water and a basic first aid kit were the essentials, Bruegman said. "You didn't even have rubber gloves."

Compare that with the inventory in today's fire house. Defibrillators, life-saving drugs and an array of high-tech medical equipment are standard at most fire stations.

"If you look at that compared to what we did 30 years ago, we have come so far," Bruegman said.

The proposed budget calls for the upgrade of a defibrillator machine. "If they were just firefighters, we wouldn't even be buying that," said Harry Kyne, the city's finance director who along with Fire Chief Dan Graves and City Manager Frank Edmunds prepared the fire budget for the next fiscal year.

The reason for the change is twofold, Bruegman said. As the fire rate began to decline because of public awareness and better building codes, those in the industry realized they could do more than fight fires. At the same time, more types of emergencies, such as hazardous material accidents, have developed during the years, Bruegman said.

About 84 percent of the fire department's budget covers paychecks and benefits, Kyne said.

The City Council discussed the budget at a workshop last week and will vote April 9 on whether to send it to the county.

Seminole Fire Rescue protects about 70,000 residents who live in a 24-square-mile area on both sides of Lake Seminole. Fire protection is included in the property taxes paid by those within the city.

The city and county will set next year's rates in late summer.

The city is anticipating nearly $4.2-million in revenue from unincorporated areas and about $1.2-million in taxes from property owners living within the city limits. Other revenue sources include contracts with other municipalities and private properties, EMS funding from the county and maintenance contracts with other fire agencies.

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