Fire Chief Matthew Love was officially sworn in during a ceremony at the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Board of Commissioners’ June meeting on Tuesday. Love began working for the district in March, after he was selected during a competitive process that involved district staff and community members as well as the Fire Board.
Retiring members of the Fire District were also recognized at the meeting. The four men represent nearly 100 years of service to the Fort Myers Beach Fire District and were honored by the district and Chief Love: Tory Vagle, Peter Miceli, Jeffrey Plybon and Shawn Campbell.
After approving the Treasurers Report that showed total district funds of $7,962,315, the board recognized a gift of $1,000 from the estate of Betty Goodacre, former Fire Commissioner. The gift is a restricted gift meant to support the Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT) beach buggy. Goodacre was a long time CERT member.
During the Chief’s Report Chief Love thanked the residents of Bayside Estates for their efforts in hosting the department’s family picnic. The residents donated their facilities and catered the event.
The budget process continues and Love said the administrative team continues to work on it, updating projections and providing options for board and community input. The final board work session on the budget will be held September 6th at 10am at Station 31. The first of two Public Budget Hearings is scheduled for Thursday September 15, 2016 at 6pm. The second is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, September 28 at 6pm.
July 2016 calls for service totaled 290 and were broken down into EMS 72%, Good Intent 17%, Service 9% and Fire 2%. Good Intent includes situations where someone calls 911 and it turns out not to be an emergency. The Service category includes calls for help that are not EMS or fire related.
Love told the board that the district continues to work closely with the county, town and road construction crews so that they are ready to reach emergencies within the areas effected by Estero Blvd. construction.
District staff service anniversaries were announced: Captain Mike Brown – 15 years and Division Chief Randy Kraus – 12 years.
Division Chief and Medical Director Randy Kraus provided the board with an overview of Emergency Medical Service Operations, explaining that the district uses a “Pit Crew” model. That model has each individual with a specific task, which makes what can seem like a chaotic scene much more efficient. He then walked commissioners through a demonstration of a cardiac arrest call, noting that the average response time for the district to a call for service is 4:46, well below the national average of 8 minutes.
Chief Love then provided an overview of the district’s organizational structure.
“When I was hired, I knew that the board expected me to assess the organization and look at ‘What’s the best way to run our organization?’”
Love explained that he has spent his first 5 months assessing the district, analyzing tasks and responsibilities and then provided the board a list of organizational structure modifications for their comment. Board members wanted to know how these changes would affect the union and whether they were onboard with the changes.
“The union plays a key role in any organizational change and I’ll be working with them,” Love responded.
Another concern was how the changes would affect the budget. Other than two new positions, training officer and receptionist, Love explained that duties would be shifted around with a focus on greater efficiency.
“In the long run efficiency saves money.”
Vice Chair Ted Schindler asked Love to discuss the district’s response to boat fires.
“I’ve been here 5 months and had 4 boats burn in 3 incidents,” Love began.
The Marine Emergency Response Team (MERT) is called upon in boat fires. The FMB District dispatches a land-based crew. If there’s a medical emergency, they send a person to the U.S. Coast Guard station where he/she boards a response boat.
“The Coast Guard does not do fire suppression,” Love said.
The difficulties of fighting a boat fire include accessing the boat and getting into all the nooks and crannies of a boat, usually using foam to do so.
“We’ve actually run through all our foam recently,” Love said.
“If we use water, it weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon and you can easily sink a boat, which you don’t want to do as it causes environmental damage in addition to the boat damage.”
In one recent boat fire call, Love explained that it took 8 minutes for the land-based crew to get to the shore near the boat, 8 minutes to get the EMS crew to the Coast Guard. Marine units were activated and took 17 minutes to get to the boat. The first fire boat (Estero) arrived at the boat fire 28 minutes after the call came in.
Fire Board Chair Carol Morris told the board that the district does not have responsibility to fight boat fires.
“By state statute, our district has no responsibility for anything in the water. If we were to add boats, we’re taking on an additional enterprise. All these marinas have special dispensation – their taxable value is capped. They’re housing multi-million dollars worth of boats that aren’t paying a dime to us. We have so many more important things to do.”
Confirming that marinas are inspected by the Fire Marshal annually, Schindler denied any need for a district boat.
“I want us to tell the public that we don’t have any need for a (district) boat and we are struggling with our budget.”
Morris repeated her concern about tax revenues.
“I’m concerned that the revenue from the mooring ball (field) goes to the town. Of course, we’ll help anyone who needs help, but we don’t get any of that money.”
Jake Lamb, representing union District 3 recognized the four retirees.
“In the last two years, we’ve lost guys with over 300 years of service. We are bringing on new recruits. I hope we can get 25 years out of them.”
Lee County Public Safety organizations are planning a joint 9-11 remembrance event at Harborside Event Center and the Fort Myers Beach Fire District will be participating in that. The joint ceremony will take place at Harborside in downtown Fort Myers on Sunday, September 11 at 8:30am.
Islanders are also welcome to attend a short evening ceremony at 7:15pm at Station 33, 121 Lenell Road, FMB on Saturday, September 10th.
In other actions, the board approved the surplussing of capital assets and reviewed the parameters for the Fire Chief’s 6-month evaluation.
Photos by M. Layfield