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Date of Issue: July 23, 2008

Fire district committee facilitating facilities

Faced with aging fire stations that need to be remodeled and refurbished to meet the modern day “mandates” of state government, the West Manatee Fire Rescue District board has asked members of its facilities committee to provide public input on what’s needed at the stations before proceeding with any upgrade campaign.

 WMFR Chief Andy Price said at the committee’s July 16 meeting that when the current fire stations were built 20 to 30 years ago, little thought was given to what services the stations would provide in the future. The facilities committee will, hopefully, ensure that doesn’t happen again.

“Twenty years ago, we were an all-volunteer fire department,” Price said. “We didn’t think where we would be in 20 years.”

Now the district has 43 full-time staff members, 30 reserve officers, an annual budget of $5.5 million and emergency medical services personnel, which are not district employees, on duty at each station. The stations need to be upgraded and the committee’s input is needed before any renovation planning begins.

One of the major goals of the committee is to inspect each fire station and provide Price and the board with a “wish list” of what should be upgraded, expanded or included in any remodeling project.

An example, noted Price, is the “community room” at each of the district’s three active stations.

While the room is used by a number of outside agencies for meetings and functions, that space could be used for staff offices, sleeping quarters, dining facilities or other district-related needs.

 Office space is a major district problem. The administrative staff is spread out among the three stations and no station has enough office space to accommodate all administrative staff in a single location, noted Price.

Additionally, firefighters have little space for quarters and a bed. With EMS personnel at each station, bunk space is always at a premium.

The committee also will look at “going green,” by considering alternative power sources such as wind and solar energy for a remodeled fire station.

Price and the board hope that public input from the committee will help “get the word out” and provide support for the long-term goal of getting the district stations to meet the needs of the 21st century.

At the same time, the board must conform to the requirements of various ‘mandates’ from county, state and federal authorities regarding fire service.

It’s a balancing act between upgrading fire stations and public support and financing, noted Price.

 “We don’t want to spend a lot of money on a major overhaul of the fire stations without community support,” he said.

And any overhaul will likely take a lot of money, money that the board will probably get from a bond issue as opposed to its yearly operating budget. The current annual assessment for fire services is at the legal maximum, said Price, although it can be increased annually to match the personal income growth factor.

Other than a bond issue, however, the district has few options to increase revenue.

The district is already “built out,” said Price, and has lost population - and income - to annexations by Bradenton.

But first things first.

The facilities committee will provide the board with a “wish list.” The board will then hire a professional to come up with a design and cost estimates for what the board wants to build, rebuild or eliminate, based upon input from the committee.

Committee members will tour each fire station July 30 before meeting to discuss specific “wants and needs” at each location.

The WMFR district has three operational stations: in Holmes Beach, on Cortez Road West and at the Manatee Avenue West-66th Street intersection. A former station in Bradenton Beach belongs to the district’s auxiliary organization and has not been utilized as a fire station for a number of years, Price noted.

Members of the facilities committee include Caroline Keller, Randy Cooper, Ray Shannon, the Rev. Rosemary Backer, David Spicer, Kerry Ward, Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford and George Burtless, in addition to Price and WMFR deputy chief Brent Pollock.