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East Tampa will get an ambulance around the clock

Council members praised Mayor Jane Castor’s decision to have a Tampa Fire Rescue vehicle available full time at Station 16.

TAMPA — After three months, the data is in and everyone agrees: East Tampa needs a full-time ambulance.

Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Nick LoCicero announced the upgrade for Station 16, 5126 E 10th Ave., at the January 9 City Council meeting. The expanded service was slated to begin this week.

“We look forward to moving the needle for the city and East Tampa itself,” LoCicero said.

During August budget negotiations, council member Orlando Gudes, who represents East Tampa, had fought for an ambulance to serve some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. The Castor administration agreed to post an ambulance at the station from noon to 10 p.m., identified as the “peak hours” for service calls, which started in October.

Related: RELATED: Gudes gets his ambulance

Gudes, though, kept pushing for 24-hour service, which Castor’s chief of staff John Bennett promised to reevaluate after 100 days. That data collected over that period showed 179 total incidents in the last three months of 2019. The average response time was seven minutes, which Lo Cicero said was “excellent.”

The expanded service will cost nearly $1.3 million, according to Tampa Fire Rescue.

Council members praised Gudes for his advocacy, with Chairman Luis Viera calling him the “hardest-working council member”

Gudes thanked Castor and his colleagues for reaching a deal on the ambulance.

“Thank you for pushing this and keeping it on the forefront,” he said. “The deal was brokered and we kept our word on both ends.”

Guido Maniscalco said the deal showed how a city council with four new members and a new mayor have forged a productive relationship.

“We’re really working together and getting things done. It’s not political infighting, it’s not back and forth,” Maniscalco said.

Castor and council members have disagreed on some issues — a $300 million wastewater reuse project dubbed by critics as “toilet-to-tap” and have jousted for control of the city’s community redevelopment areas.

But the mayor praised Gudes and said public safety is crucial to the community.

“Public safety is a top priority of our administration and as our city continues to grow, so does the need for city services. Our women and men at Tampa Fire Rescue look forward to continuing to serve our residents in East Tampa. I commend councilmen Gudes for pushing for this increased service for the residents of his district,” Castor said in a statement.

Fran Tate, president of the Jackson Heights Neighborhood Association, said she was excited by the news.

“Our community has been without that type of service. We were due for it,” Tate said.

Currently, the city has 15 rescue cars in its 23 stations. The new car for Station 16, scheduled to arrive by the end of month, will make it 16, said Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny.

It’s been a longtime goal of the fire department to have a rescue car at each of its stations. And Viera wants to add additional rescue service at Station 13 near Busch Gardens, one of the busiest areas in the city for ambulance calls.

LoCicero agreed to report back to council members on Feb. 6 about adding a “peak hours” service to Station 13.

The city is in the midst of a master plan for its parks and recreational system, he noted. Maybe it’s time to undertake a similar analysis of Tampa’s police and fire needs, Viera said.

“Local government’s first priority is public safety,” he said.