Fire Board Seeks Applicants

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Topps Property Appraisals In

At their rescheduled March work session meeting on March 3, the four members of the Board of Commissioners for the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department made a decision on how to proceed to fill Seat One, vacant following Commissioner Bob Raymond’s resignation due to health concerns last month. Fire Chief Matt Love reported that he had spoken to the board’s attorney who advised that the board had several options to fill the vacancy: they could leave it empty and it would be on the ballot of the next General Election as a two-year term or they could choose to appoint someone to the position until the next General Election. “Make sure it’s as transparent as possible,” Love relayed, “and post the call for applicants for 30 days.”

“We have a lot of stuff coming up,” said Vice-Chair Ron Fleming, “we need someone now.” The other four commissioners agreed, voting unanimously to proceed with advertising for applicants. Present at the meeting were Chair Larry Wood and Commissioners Jacki Liszak and John Bennett.

Qualified applicants to fill Seat One until the November 2020 election, are asked to provide a Letter of Interest and a resume to the board. Any registered voter in the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District is eligible to apply. The district extends from Pine Ridge Road south, including all of Estero Island, ending at the Big Carlos Bridge. Applicants are asked to send their materials via email, according to directions posted at fmbfire.org or via USPS mail to FMB Fire Department, 100 Voorhis Street, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931 The application deadline will be posted on the department’s website.

Appraisals In

In early January, the Fire Board approved a contract to purchase 2545-2555 Estero Blvd., the former Topps Supermarket property, as a site to build a replacement Station 31. The current Station 31 at 3043 Estero Blvd. sits on just 0.11 acres and has been in use since 1951. It is unable to house a Ladder Truck, has serious accessibility deficits and lacks training facilities. Independent facility assessments and response modeling in conjunction with the Lee County Department of Public Safety, determined that a new station was needed and it should be located closer to the downtown area. The Fire Board authorized department administration to begin the search for property in January 2019. Additional information on the Station 31 project is online at fmbfire.org under “About Us.”

The FMB Fire Department offered $3,992,000 for the two lots, totaling 2.15 acres. The market value/original price was $4.6 million. Recently two independent appraisals of the property were completed and came in within 0.25% of each other, one at $4,040,000, the other at $4,050,000, or about $48,000 above what the department will pay for the property. “I am very pleased to learn that we made a great buy on the property,” said Fleming.

During Commissioner Remarks, Wood voiced his objection to something said at a previous meeting that he characterized as “demeaning.” At the February 26 meeting, in which a Collective Bargaining Agreement for IAFF District 15 was unanimously approved, union rep Jake Lamb thanked the board for approving the contract and said he hoped to open channels of communication directly with board members. “You meet with the Chief monthly, I’d like to meet with you also. I find it a little interesting that you, as the governing body of the department, need the permission of your employee, the Fire Chief, to meet with us. Contrary to popular belief, things are good, but not great.”

Wood found those remarks inappropriate. “Commissioners were chastised and demeaned by a speaker.” He explained that the board is following board policy. “We do not demean any employee of the district and insist on the same level of respect for board members.”

Direct communication with union members during contract negotiations got Board Vice-Chair Ron Fleming in hot water with the rest of the board and earned him a sanction letter in January 2020.

Wood explained that board policy, which all board members agreed to, calls for visits to fire stations or meetings with employees to be coordinated through the Fire Chief. Bennett agreed, “This board backs the Chief 1000%. If we did not, he would not be in this job. Policies are there for a reason. I’ve never felt I had to have approval (to visit). It’s just a matter of courtesy, so I don’t interfere with operations.”

The next meeting of the Fire Board is March 25 at 6pm in Town Hall. The public is encouraged to attend that meeting as there will be special presentation from the Life Safety Division as well as a Swearing In Ceremony for several new or promoted employees.