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Date of Issue: February 13, 2008

Fire officials tour facilities

West Manatee Fire Rescue District Commissioner Larry Tyler looks around the department's administrative building in northwest Manatee.

Call it the 2008 Tour of Stations.

West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price led district fire commissioners on a tour of the district’s three stations and administration building Feb. 6. The chief, along with Deputy Chief Brett Pollock and Battalion Chief Dennis Dotson, didn’t conduct the tour to show off the decor, the view or the landscaping, but rather to show the cramped personnel quarters.

“We need more space at each station, physical space,” Price said.

Before departing from Station 1 in Holmes Beach, Price reminded commissioners that the board adopted a strategic plan in March 2005 that identified critical issues facing the district.

Some issues dealt with WMFR facilities - including the need for the consolidation of administrative operations now divided between the Island and the mainland, and the remodeling or rebuilding of the administration building and Station 4 at 407 67th St. W. in unincorporated west Manatee County.

WMFR’s newest building is Station 1, 6001 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach, built in 1988. Station 2, 10350 Cortez Road in west Manatee, was built in 1987, and Station 4 was built in 1962, then remodeled in 1995. Station 3, 105 Highland Ave. in Bradenton Beach, serves as a headquarters for the WMFR Association.

All three stations, according to Price, were built to accommodate volunteer personnel, not to house firefighters, ambulance crews and recruits.

“We have modified and made due the best we could to accommodate the career staff, but it has fallen woefully short of meeting our needs,” Price informed commissioners.

“We’re just running out of space,” he added.

Price then took the commissioners on the tour to prove the point.

The first stop was the administration building on 67th Street West.

Price pointed out the building’s strengths, including the hurricane shutters and the heavy-duty construction and design.

“This building is essentially a bunker,” he boasted.

“This place is built like a fortress,” Pollock added, noting that in a storm evacuation WMFR personnel would gather at the administration building.

But the building does not meet federal Americans with Disabilities standards and is too small for the size of the staff. As a result, closets have been turned into offices and some administrative personnel work on the Island.

“One of the options,” Price said, “is a second story to this building. Going up would more than double the space - if we could do it.”

The tour went outside to the parking lot behind the building and a storage shed, before going next door to Station 4 and the garage housing the fire trucks.

Price pointed out prior roof work and an addition to the garage, needed because fire trucks have grown in length since 1962.

As commissioners walked through the building they saw where a dorm room was transformed into a workout room, an open room that houses both the kitchen and computer stations, and the bunk room, which was crammed with beds and storage bins.

“My big issue is the bunk room,” Dotson said, referring to the cramped living quarters.

With a lack of space in the bunk room, firefighters sometimes sleep on recliners in the day room, Dotson said.

The story was similar at Station 2, where WMFR Lt. Darren Vollmer told commissioners, “Sometimes we have people sleeping on the couch and the chairs.”

At Station 2, Price pointed out areas once used for training and living that contain items for storage. The day room, where firefighters relax, also serves as a storage area for medical supplies. “As you can see,” Price said, “this place is maxed out as far as room.”

The tour ended at Station 1 in Holmes Beach, where Price pointed out that the board room also serves as a multi-purpose room, with exercise machines for fitness training and a ping-pong table for relaxation.

Commissioners gathered for a meeting to discuss the tour and agreed to hold another workshop to prioritize problems and decide how to pay to correct them.

“There are areas that need to be corrected,” Commissioner Larry Tyler said. “Station 4 is the worst. We are tight.”

But so is money, he added, as did other commissioners.

The prospect of a cost-saving consolidation of fire districts in the future may also be a consideration.

“I have a concern with the dollars and with where are we going in the future,” Tyler said, adding, “I’m in favor of a total consolidation of districts.”

Other commissioners also mentioned consolidation as a prospect in the next 10 years, but noted that even if local fire districts merged into a countywide operation, the station would need improvements.

The commissioners asked for staff’s recommendations of needed changes to buildings before their next meeting, which will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at Station 1.

The commissioners then intend to set a date for another workshop.

“What we saw tonight is going to take a lot of money,” said Commissioner John Rigney. “It’s hard to say what we’re going to do if we don’t know where the money is going to come from.”