By Tamas Mondovics

Hillsborough County recent pilot project proposal to temporarily relocate a Fire Rescue vehicle and ambulance crew (Rescue 2) currently placed at Fire Station No. 2 in Lithia, to Riverview was met with mixed feelings last month. The rescue unit in question is identified as an advanced life-support or ALS truck and crew, with transportation capacity.

Given the recent study of calls and responses for alarms within Riverview, Lithia and FishHawk Ranch, the idea seemed sound and according to Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones, would have meet the needs of all affected communities better.

“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 told Lithia 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 study 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 currently have a rescue vehicle, used its ALS fire engine to respond to 3,405 alarms in 2015, with many of those assisted by Rescue 2.

The proposal prompted County Commissioner Stacy White (District 4) to schedule a meeting last month at Pinecrest Elementary School. White told the nearly two dozen residents in attendance, and members of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, 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 and, promised to ask the board to fund the Riverview station to have its own ambulance and crew, which cost about $300,000 and more than $1 million a year to staff and equip.

Currently, only one-third of the county’s 43 fire stations have such trucks.

Backed by a sizable FishHawk crowd during the Board of County Commissioner’s (BOCC) meeting on July 20, White asked his fellow commissioners to vote in favor of funding a new advanced life-support or ALS truck and crew. White’s fellow commissioners were generally supportive of finding the necessary funds, which would leave Rescue 2 in place, but voted to flag the item for discussion at its budget reconciliation workshop, on Thursday, July 28, when the BOCC again voted to wait to discuss the flagged items, until the first budget public hearing on September 8.
County officials confirmed that the proposed Rescue 2 relocation is now on hold and that the unit stays in Lithia.

Meanwhile, there was discussion about moving forward with the procurement process for a new rescue vehicle in the Riverview area. County Administrator Mike Merrill explained that Procurement Services could start preparing the documentation in the time between now and the public hearing in September.

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