TAMPA — New Tampa offers many of the perks of suburban living while still being inside city limits: roomy homes on big lots, good schools and a low crime rate.
But the sprawling collection of gated communities in the northernmost reaches of Tampa also has a big drawback: the longest emergency response times in the city.
At 8.96 minutes, the 34-square mile district has a median response time that's about 90 seconds longer than Tampa's four other fire department districts, according to data obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through a public records request.
In an emergency, authorities acknowledge, a minute and a half can be the difference between life and death.
That's one reason the city is building a new fire station at Trout Creek Drive near County Line Road. But that station, originally scheduled to open late this year, won't be operational until 2019.
At this point it looks like February, but the date remains a moving target, said Fire Chief Nick LoCicero.
Although the station isn't ready yet, a fire engine and rescue car that will eventually be assigned there have been responding to calls since July.
But they aren't housed anywhere near New Tampa.
Instead, they've been assigned to stations in West Tampa and in North Tampa near Busch Gardens.
Those stations have space for the extra vehicles and are busier than stations in New Tampa that also have room, including one on Cross Creek Boulevard, LoCicero said.
The department also wants to prevent units from existing New Tampa-area stations from having to drive south to back up North or West Tampa if those stations are swamped with calls — a frequent occurrence in those high-traffic stations, the chief said.
"At the first part of the year, those units will absolutely be in New Tampa. But in the meantime they're better utilized there. That's the rationale," LoCicero said.
Since January, there have only been four or five units that have had to respond to New Tampa calls from stations further south, LoCicero said. That out of about 800 calls.
"It will only get better when the new station opens," he said.
That frustrates some residents in New Tampa who already have to deal with another barrier to quick emergency responses: a dispute between Hillsborough and Pasco counties that have kept connecting streets between the counties closed off, complicating mutual-aid agreements for ambulance service to far-flung communities like K-Bar Ranch.
Craig Margelowsky, an incoming board member for the K-Bar Community Development District, says he understands the rationale for placing the engine and rescue car in neighborhoods with older homes and more calls. But he wishes they could be housed at Cross Creek, nearer to his home.
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"We are so spread out our neighborhoods are 500 acres or 1,000 acres. It takes a long time on these winding roads to get from Point A to Point B," Margelowsky said. "They're covering a whole lot more acreage than they are anywhere else."
Council member Luis Viera, who represents New Tampa, said the problem is emblematic of what happens when the city swallows a huge swath of land which then fills up with people. Tampa annexed what is now New Tampa beginning in the 1980s. Since 1990, the area has swelled from about 9,000 people to around 60,000.
Viera spoke to LoCicero recently about the response times. He said he would defer to the department's decision on where to place the emergency vehicles, but emphasized New Tampa's predicament.
"Those vehicles should be used in a way that is consistent with public safety needs. Clearly, in New Tampa there are public safety needs," Viera said.
Contact Charlie Frago at email@example.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.