1. News

Firefighters sound alarm: Hillsborough needs more fire stations

Firefights, union officials tell county commissioners that Hillsborough is growing too fast for its first-responders. They need new stations and reinforcements.
Hillsborough Fire Rescue firefighters battling a massive blaze in Tampa’s Northdale neighborhood last year. Fire Rescue and union officials told county commissioners on Wednesday that 25 to 30 new fire stations must be built over the next three decades to keep up with population growth.
Published Feb. 6

TAMPA — It's been more than a decade since Hillsborough County Fire Rescue officials first warned that the county's booming population growth would exceed their ability to provide emergency services.

The alarm was sounded once again at Wednesday's Hillsborough County Commission meeting. Union officials and dozens of firefighters urged commissioners to build at least one new fire station a year over the next 25 to 30 years to meet the needs of rapidly growing communities.

Union spokesman Travis Horn told the commission that "first responders are handling calls at a frenetic pace."

"They're out there day and night,'' he said. "Simply building one fire station over the last decade and rebuilding another is not enough to keep pace with the growth we've seen."

The county is already struggling to meet national emergency response benchmarks, records show. Rescue personnel responded to an emergency in less than 7 minutes about 55 percent of the time in 2017, according to the most recent figures.

County staff has set a goal of responding to 90 percent of calls within 4 to 6 minutes. But that would require the construction of 25 to 30 new fire stations throughout the county, said International Association of Firefighters Local 2294 president Derrick Ryan. That is the union that represents Hillsborough's firefighters.

"I'm telling you right now, doing this business for 12 years, you have never seen us gather before the (commission) like we're doing today and begging for resources," Ryan said. "We're at that point where we are nervous for the citizens of this county, all over Hillsborough County."

The biggest need is in south county, in communities near the Brandon and Bloomingdale areas. Hillsborough Fire Chief Dennis Jones said the department has placed the highest priority on building a new fire station in north Sun City Center — an area that will require five new fire stations to handle the population growth there. The second highest priority is building a station near W Sligh Avenue and Anderson Road in Town 'N' Country, the chief said.

"But the areas of need are all over the county," Jones told the Tampa Bay Times. "There's always a shortage of funds and I trust that the board will make the right decision in supporting the fire rescue department and the services we provide."

Fire Rescue officials first identified an urgent need for additional fire stations in the county's 2003 fire rescue master plan — which has been updated and resubmitted to the commission in 2007, 2011, and 2017.

The initial plan called for building 32 new fire stations in the county by 2015. Instead, the county built just five, bringing the total to 42.

When that study was presented a decade ago, Ryan said Fire Rescue received an average of about 80,000 calls for service annually. Last year, Hillsborough firefighters responded to 110,000 calls.

The county has built just one new fire station in the past decade, an additional station in the FishHawk Ranch area.

"That's crazy," Ryan said. "We should have had 20 fire stations within that time frame. We have to keep up with the growth."

A private contractor was recently hired to update fire rescue's master plan yet again, Jones said. Meanwhile Fire Rescue is figuring out ways to stretch itself across the county. The chief said his department developed a floating fleet of "squad" rescue cars comprised of two firefighter-paramedics who move from station to station depending on need. They can help alleviate the pressure medical calls place on its fire engines, because those make up 85 percent of all calls.

"They can't transport, they can't put out fires, but they're very nimble and can respond quickly," Jones said. "We're also looking at putting multiple units in the same station in places where we could use additional response capability, but we're limited by the size of our stations and the available sleeping space and living space, so it's not an issue with a single fix."

Commissioner Stacy White asked county budget staff to research the possibility of increasing fire impact fees, charging developers to help pay for new fire stations. A previous study "definitely suggested that fire impact fees could be raised," White said. "I think this is a golden opportunity to look at it and start those discussions."

But expanding firefighting resources would be expensive. Adding one new rescue vehicle to the fleet would cost about $1 million each year, Jones said. In 2017, officials estimated building, staffing and equipping 25 new fire stations would cost an extra $20 million a year through 2031.

"(Past commissions were) aware of it, they liked what I presented previously, and they agreed with it," Jones said. "They didn't have any challenges to it. It just has not yet been funded."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.


  1. A sign seen on the front door of Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria in March, after owner Tom Woodard stopped serving drinks with plastic straws. The St. Petersburg City Council voted 5-2 on Thursday night to ban single-use plastic straws. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
    The City Council tweaked its own ordinance banning single-use plastic straws, which is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
  2. Student activists with the March For Our Lives group, founded after the Feb. 2018 Parkland shooting, hold a banner that promotes their new "peace plan" to prevent gun violence, while demonstrating in the rotunda of the state capitol building in Tallahassee. Emily L. Mahoney | Times
    The 18-year-old student director of March for Our Lives Florida said school shootings are so common they are “not shocking” anymore.
  3. Steven Currall prepares to deliver an address during his investiture as the University of South Florida's seventh president Thursday at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    Though he started the job in July, Steve Currall is officially installed as president on his 137th day in office.
  4. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
  5. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  6. Gov. Ron DeSantis greets local officials at Dunedin High School on Oct. 7, 2019, part of a swing around the state to announce his plan to boost starting teacher pay in Florida to $47,500. He revealed a related teacher bonus plan on Nov. 14 in Vero Beach. MEGAN REEVES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The new plan would replace the controversial Best and Brightest model that DeSantis had called confusing.
  7. The "#9pmroutine" is a core social media feature for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Now, the agency has a copyright on it. Facebook
    Copyrighting a key part of the agency’s social media presence isn’t meant to limit its reach, the office said, but rather to stop bad actors.
  8. USF student Gabriela Young is the owner of Earth and Ivory, an online jewelry business with items made out of clay.  [Special to the Times | Sarah Foster] SARAH FOSTER  |  Special to the Times | @sarahtheartiste
    Gabriela Young went from selling bracelets to friends to making clay wares for customers with her business, Earth and Ivory.
  9. Chief Veterinarian Mallory Offner examines a female rescue puppy at the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center in Tampa. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    With 250 of the pooches ready for adoption, each potential puppy parent has a 1-in-4 shot at getting picked in today’s drawing.
  10. Eight vehicles were involved in a fiery and fatal crash late Wednesday that left two people dead and shut down northbound Interstate 75 bridging Hillsborough and Pasco counties, authorities said. The driver of the white van pictured above, George Pagan of Tampa, said he saw the semi-trailer truck, left, sliding sideways toward him in his rearview mirror before impact. Pasco Fire Rescue
    The chain-reaction crash that closed the northbound lanes near the Pasco-Hillsborough line started when a semi-trailer truck driver didn’t stop for traffic, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.