By Tamas Mondovics

Hillsborough County’s decision to temporarily relocate a Fire Rescue vehicle and ambulance crew (Rescue 2) currently placed at Fire Station No. 2, in Lithia to Riverview found FishHawk and surrounding area residents clearly disappointed.

The proposal did not sit well with County Commissioner Stacy White either, prompting him to schedule a meeting last month at Pinecrest Elementary School.

White told the nearly two dozen residents in attendance, joined by members of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue (HCFR) that, while he respects the Fire Chief’s recommendation and expertise, the rescue truck is a valuable community asset.

“First of all, I wanted to say that I’ve heard the community loud and clear, and I’m with you 100 percent,” White said. “An ambulance service is like an insurance policy. You have to have it but you hope to God you never have to use it.”

Prepared to bring the issue to the Board of County Commissioners at its next meeting, White said, “I am going to ask the board to fund the Riverview station to have its own ambulance and crew.”

Taking a turn, County Fire Chief Dennis Jones told residents that the county considered the plan to ensure that its Fire Rescue crews, vehicles and equipment are strategically positioned to best meet public safety needs, based on call volume and population growth.

The rescue vehicles cost about $300,000 and more than $1 million a year to staff and equip. Currently, only 15 of the county’s 43 fire stations have such trucks.

“This proposal is not about saving money, but about saving lives,” Jones said adding that all fire stations in the county have fire engines, which are manned by equally trained paramedics and are equipped with emergency medical equipment to respond to critical emergency calls, but they cannot transport them to the hospital.

Jones emphasized that a fire engine with crews who are trained and equipped to respond to critical medical calls will remain at the Lithia Pinecrest Road station.

A recent study for the Riverview, South Brandon, Lithia and FishHawk Ranch areas, found that while Lithia’s Rescue 2 responded to 892 alarms from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016; Fire Station No. 16 in Riverview, which does not have a rescue vehicle, used its fire engine to respond to 3,405 alarms in 2015, with many of those assisted by Rescue 2.

True to his word, and backed by a sizable FishHawk crowd, White asked his fellow commissioners to vote in favor of funding a new ambulance for a FishHawk fire station, paid from existing reserves; only to be rejected.

The board has agreed to consider the matter as one of the individual projects to be funded out of surplus revenues at a meeting July 28, just after press time. We will update with the latest information after the meeting.

In the meantime, discussion regarding the groundbreaking for a new fire station in FishHawk Ranch, Station 44- equipped with a rescue vehicle, a couple of miles west of Station No. 2. The new station, however, is not scheduled for completion until late 2017 or first quarter of 2018.

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