Facilities, Evaluation, Registry & Retention
On Tuesday, February 7, the Board of Commissioners of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District met for a workshop with a full agenda that would take them over two hours to work through. Their longest two discussions were focused on preparing for Fire Chief Matt Love’s annual evaluation and responding to a complaint regarding the Fire Safety Ordinance.
For the Fire Chief’s evaluation scheduled next month, commissioners will be asked to rate Love on a 1-5 basis in ten areas. The newest commissioner Ron Fleming wanted the job description changed to remove the phrase ”take command” at any incident because he said it was inaccurate.
Other board members, including Ted Schindler, said he appreciated the desire to clarify any possible confusion on the choice of word used, but felt it would be better handled at a later workshop, when the entire description could be reviewed.
“He’s been working under this description for a year now,” said Schindler. “To change it now would be unfair to the chief.”
Fire Ordinance Flack
Local property manager Rick Loughery with Distinctive Beach Rentals wrote to the Board of Commissioners on January 26, 2017 complaining about the Fire Ordinance. The Fire Safety Ordinance was passed in February 2016 and requires registration and inspection of single family and two family homes used as vacation or short-term rentals. The ordinance requires compliance with state fire codes developed by the State Fire Marshal, “to ensure that occupants enjoy the same level of protection as guests lodging in a traditional hotel/motel.”
Loughery claimed that his company was not being treated fairly, that all 97 of his properties had been inspected and claimed that few other properties had been; he also complained of the cost to meet the fire safety codes and asked the board to explain why the ordinance was “failing to provide the protection promised to our citizens and guests.”
“Nothing is being done to stop anyone from renting a home without an inspection,” Loughery wrote.
In a written response, Division Chief Fire Marshal Ron Martin reminded the board that the Fire Ordinance called for voluntary registration and inspection and was aimed at saving lives and property. Licensing, use and zoning are under the Town’s purview. Martin reported that to date, 130 inspections have been completed and 368 properties registered. With current staff they can do about 15 registry inspections per month.
Loughery suggested in his email that the district passed the ordinance as a moneymaker since they did not add staff to handle the increased number of inspections it would generate. Martin admitted that staffing levels limit the number of inspections performed and the district’s pursuit of unregistered properties. He said the ordinance is doing what was expected, making rental properties safer for residents and visitors.
“A majority of the issues that have been mitigated in these properties have been smoke detectors, emergency lighting, and ensuring adequate egress,” Martin wrote. “Several of these properties have not had a safe and reliable means of egress with such items being discovered as no graspable handrails, loose steps, trip hazards, and in some instances egress decks that were a collapse hazard.”
Since 1979, firefighters have used a lockbox system for commercial properties that allows quick entry in an emergency. For the first time a residential Knox Box Rapid Entry is available. DC Fire Marshal Ron Martin told the board that the district receives requests often for this type of service. People are out of town or incapacitated and can’t open the door when an emergency call is made – the Knox Box allows easy entry. Martin estimated the cost at about $160-180, paid by the homeowner. The board will vote on adopting the use of residential rapid entry boxes at their next meeting.
The board closed out their meeting with a discussion on firefighter turnover and retention. Fleming said that since 2014 the district had lost 15 firefighters to resignations and asked if that turnover was due to “massive overtime” or the district’s culture.
Chief Love said his count was 13 since 2014. Eliminate the resignations in lieu of termination and the number is 8 resignations since 2014. Several firefighters left when jobs opened up on Florida’s east coast where they lived and the suggestion was made to give preference to applicants that lived in SWFL. After discussion of the possible reasons for turnover, most board members agreed that changes had been made and with 9 new hires in the next two months, they were hoping to improve retention.
The next meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners is set for February 21 at 6:00 p.m. at Station 31, 3043 Estero Blvd.