Fleet Color Has Fire Commission Seeing Red

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Paint It Black

When Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Chief Matthew Love presented his proposal to purchase four new vehicles, he probably guessed that a potential sticking point might be the $123,000 price. Turns out it is the vehicles’ color – black!

Three of the Board of Fire Commission members, as well as its soon-to-join-them newly elected Commissioner, object to the primary black of the Fire Control District fleet.

The issue first raised a black cloud during Public Input when Ron Fleming, who won a Fire Control District seat on November 8 and will join the Commission in December, inquired why the proposed four new light/medium trucks on the evening’s agenda for purchase will be in black, asking if the intent is to repaint them white or yellow.

When the Commission reached the Vehicle Procurement agenda item, Chief Love recommended replacing a 2005 Ford Explorer, 2007 Ford Fusion, and two 2007 Ford Explorers with one new Ford Expedition EL, one Ford 4WD F150, and two Ford Explorers PI, all black-over-red in color, from Tamiami Ford for roughly $123,000, as well as an additional $48,000 in necessary fire duty modifications for a total of $171,000. He said that Tamiami came in below Government Pricing, making the buys exceptional bargains.

Back in Black

Chairperson Carol Morris interjected that when she thinks of fire department vehicles, she sees the color red. “I do not like black,” she added. “It is hot when you are inside it, and is not visible at night. Why not white or red?” Fire District Secretary/Treasurer Bob Raymond quickly chimed in that he “is not wild about black either!”

Chair Morris cannot recall seeing any other fleet using black as their principle color, saying that she sees many more red trucks. Chef Love countered that black is gaining favor all over the nation, including locally with the Bonita Springs and South Trail departments. Raymond said when the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District purchased its ambulances, it did so in green to see them at night.

As the debate continued, Fire District Commissioner Larry Wood made a motion to purchase the four vehicles from Tamiami Ford for $123,000. Vice Chair Ted Schindler II seconded the motion, while making a quick aside that he has issues with black as well. Wood replied that for him, getting a good deal is more crucial than color.

Chef Love defended the selection, saying the fleet color is a branding and culture for the district, and “what the troops want to see in our vehicles.” He knows of no statistics or stories where black is a safety concern for any other department, describing it as “a smart and safe choice for our organization.”

Chair Morris says that she reads a great deal on safety, especially concerning visibility, and black does not meet that criteria. “Our ambulances are visible, so the rest of our fleet should be as well.” Schindler said gold tape and red side markings will assist in making the vehicles easier to see once on the road, even at night, adding again that “I do not like black, but I am not the one driving it.” Wood stated it is up to Chef Love and the Fire Control District staff to decide issues like fleet color; it is the Commissioners’ duty to determine if the purchases are fiscally responsible.

The Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District voted unanimously 5-0 to purchase the four new trucks, in black, from Tamiami Ford for $123,000.

Interpretations & Viewpoints

Bylaws were the next item, leading Wood to request a workshop with an expert to define the role of Fire Control District Commissioners, particularly pertaining to ethics and Florida’s Sunshine Laws, citing the previous discussion: “Vehicle color I believe is not our job; that is why we hire professionals to decide those matters.”

Chair Morris said he will never find a lawyer who will say the Board cannot discuss fleet colors. Wood responded that is her interpretation, emphasizing that “we need to come together as a group to really know our role, and not leave it up to five different viewpoints. I have several more years to serve, and want to be sure we are all on the same page.” Fire District Commissioners assigned Chief Love to arrange for the appropriate speaker for their next Workshop on Tuesday afternoon, December 6.

Earlier, Chief Love reported that the District had a successful October Fire Prevention Month, with outreach events at Pirate Fest and Times Square, a Beach Elementary School mock fire academy, and a program for older adults at Beach Kiwanis. Perhaps most beneficial was realistic search & rescue training at the Bay Oaks Recreation Center haunted house following Halloween. With its dark environment and smoke-filled maze of walls, Fire Control District crews simulated finding fire victims in adverse conditions using thermal imagers, one of their newest life-saving tools.

At the conclusion of the session, all four remaining members thanked departing Commissioner John Pohland for his service. He remarked that his tenure, “though brief, was great and intense. I enjoyed it, and appreciate the opportunity to work with all of you, and I will miss it – thank you!”
Gary Mooney