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Date of Issue: October 25, 2007

Planned bridge closure concerns fire officials

West Manatee Fire Rescue District officials began last week to plan for a 75-day emergency - the closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

WMFR Chief Andy Price and Deputy Chief Brett Pollock discussed the Florida Department of Transportation’s plans to close the bridge for renovations during a commission meeting Oct. 18. WMFR commissioners met at the district’s Station No. 1, 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

“It’s going to split our district,” Price said, referring to the proposed bridge shut down in 2008. WMFR’s district includes Anna Maria Island, Cortez and sections of west Bradenton.

Price said closing one of two bridges linking the Island to the mainland will cause traffic congestion that likely will make it difficult for emergency response teams from the mainland and Longboat Key to reach the northern half of Anna Maria Island, or to leave the Island.

That, Price told commissioners, means WMFR probably will have to increase its staff level in the Holmes Beach station, hiring an additional two to three firefighters a day during the bridge shut down.

The cost could be $50,000 or far more, the chief said, adding that the expense was not factored into the 2007-08 budget approved earlier this fall.

“This is really unfortunate,” said WMFR commission chair Mike Mulyck, adding that he wished DOT had consulted more people much earlier about the project.

“We should have been working with them on this for the last 18 months,” Pollock said.

WMFR officials plan to talk with county officials, DOT officials and Bradenton and Longboat Key fire departments to prepare for the bridge closure.

Further, Price said, the county may want to agree to equip a WMFR fire engine with Emergency Medical Services equipment and a paramedic as a precaution. If an EMS ambulance takes a patient from the Island to the mainland in heavy traffic on Cortez Road, “they could be gone for a long time,” Price said.

Price said WMFR adapted when the Cortez Bridge was closed for repairs, but that also proved costly for the district.

“We double-staffed then,” he said. “And we had to eat the cost.”

Concerns about safety likely will come up during two public meetings to discuss the bridge project in the next two weeks.

A town hall meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29, at St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach.

Also, Save Anna Maria Inc., which was heavily involved in the fight against a new bridge, will hold a meeting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Island Branch Library, 3701 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

The next WMFR commission meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at Station No. 1, following a 5 p.m. workshop.