Rahm Emanuel once said, "You never want a crisis to go to waste." While not a crisis yet, the continued escalation of fire/EMS costs and the raiding of county reserve money combined with tax increases to cover those costs ensures that it will become a crisis, probably sooner than later. The Times suggests that the Legislature mandate through law that Pinellas County create a countywide fire/EMS system to eliminate systemic inefficiencies, redundancies and turf battles. That would be one step in the right direction, but I propose a bit stronger medicine. It's time for our political leaders to comprehend that firefighting makes up only 20 percent of all calls for service. We are now running an EMS health care system, with a side dish of fire.
The amount of equipment, training and staffing that goes to firefighting needs to be significantly shifted to an EMS/transport role. When was the last time a 15-story building needed ladder trucks to rescue folks? The past 30-year-plus effort by fire marshals and code designers has pretty much eliminated that event. Older wooden homes and mobile homes are, unfortunately, death traps with firefighters usually arriving too late to do much but protect surrounding structures.
Consultants have been hired to "analyze" the system and make recommendations. These recommendations invariably end up supporting one or the other status quo. While I am not endorsing Sunstar, if you check out their service trucks you'll see the future of EMS saving lives - far cheaper than a ladder truck and more dedicated to today's priorities. The whole structure of EMS/fire service needs to be re- examined. A change in the system will gore many oxen, but the crisis is coming. Why wait?
Scott Wagman, St. Petersburg
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Make sober choice
St. Pete Beach is one of the hot spots for spring breakers, yet it is marred by the reports of more than one fatal accident. People need to be more responsible. There are so many affordable options available when people want to enjoy the nightlife other than getting behind the wheel of a car. There's the shuttle, Free Beach Ride or cabs. They are experienced, safe and sober drivers. Enjoy yourselves, but be safe.
Cynthia Gaffrey, St. Petersburg
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Sign law largely ignored - March 16
Let logic rule
My church is in a purely residential area of Largo, as are many churches. Our church was built over 57 years ago on a street that was virtually a dirt road. At that time there were apparently no restrictions governing the location of a church sign, and ours happened to be built on the right-of-way abutting our property line. Since the church was built, no code violations or notices were ever received about the location.
We are now wanting to upgrade this sign with an LED system. However, we have been told that the sign (as it is now stands) must be moved off the right-of-way and placed inside the property line and be no higher than 8 feet, with a monument base, all to conform with the new law.
Over the past 57 years we have seeded, watered, trimmed, fertilized and mowed over 500 feet of beautiful grass in the right-of-way. When the sidewalk was paved they intentionally curved it away from the sign, for some reason. It is not an obstruction to traffic or pedestrians.
The new law should also be of major concern as it relates to businesses. I would imagine the effect it will have on these establishments will be devastating. To the powers that be, all we are seeking to do is, upgrade the existing sign to an LED type and in the process lower the height to meet the required 8 foot maximum and have a monument base. Is anybody listening or understand our situation?
Peter B. Ferrara Sr., Belleair Bluffs
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Can CONA heal after drama? - March 16
As a longtime Council of Neighborhood Associations of South Pinellas board member and past president, it pained me to read the recent article. The article explores reasons for two neighborhood associations leaving CONA and some not joining, and for the CONA executive committee taking actions that prevented immediate past president Kurt Donley from running for public safety chairman. Particularly mentioned in the article as a reason for some not supporting Donley was his focus on the vast increase in incarceration of minorities, especially young people, for nonviolent offenses, and his use of the bestselling book The New Jim Crow to document the issue.
While I disagree with some of the book's assertions, I agree with its central theme, which is that the huge increase in incarceration is a major societal problem about which we all need to be concerned. Since the 1970s the U.S. prison population has exploded from 250,000 to more than 2 million, with a significant proportion of the increase due to relatively minor drug possession convictions disproportionately involving minority young men. Society is paying a heavy price for this, including the dependency created.
CONA has traditionally concerned itself with building codes, land development and historic preservation, signage and beautification, community policing, neighborhood building and similar matters. While Donley and the independently elected executive committee addressed these, Donley's efforts to raise consciousness regarding minority youth and young adult incarcerations was somewhat novel, and some association representatives had difficulty with it. But this was done with the full knowledge and approval of the board. Not mentioned in the article was that at the April 2013 board meeting Donley addressed those concerns head-on. He then called for a standing vote of support from the board to approve discussion of this issue as part of CONA's educational activity, although this was not to be a primary activity. The vote was unanimous in support.
I respect Donley's courage and leadership on this issue. Being president of CONA, an all-volunteer organization, is a tough job. I thank Donley for his service, and also sincerely wish the new president and officers well in striving to make our city an even better place to live as they begin their new terms.
Will Michaels, St. Petersburg