MESSAGE FROM THE BOARD OF FIRE COMMISSIONERS (November, 2018)
As Fire Commissioners for North Collier Fire Rescue, we continually are faced with balancing fiduciary budgeting responsibilities with emergency response. Many times, responses extend beyond our district’s boundaries.
When an emergency arises 10 miles away in an adjacent district, from brush fires to vehicle entrapments, we respond to the call for help. When an emergency arises 500 miles away in another part of the state, from devastating flooding to hurricane landfalls, we respond to the call for help.
Geographical boundaries are erased during these times of tragedy. Agencies work together to handle the emergency, ensuring that sufficient personnel and apparatus are provided to mitigate the situation as safely and quickly as possible.
This response, though, comes with certain acknowledgments.
The provisioning of our district’s first responders and apparatus outside our boundaries can reduce the number of personnel available for our own constituents. It can also potentially increase response times. And, mutual aid between adjacent districts can become inequitable with one giving more aid than receiving.
Furthermore, providing response beyond boundaries can incur costs. For state or federally declared emergencies including wildfires or hurricanes, a district can submit expenditures for reimbursement at applicable state and/or federal levels. Reimbursement is not always guaranteed though, and can be substantially less than the expenditures submitted. It can also take months, even years, to process. North Collier Fire is still awaiting reimbursement for the April 2017 30th Avenue wildfire in which we provided mutual aid to Greater Naples Fire Rescue.
So, why respond beyond boundaries?
The first reason – fire service culture and tradition. Firefighters are sworn to safeguard life and property. They look beyond boundary lines as they see firsthand that without rapid response, someone in a neighboring community may lose property and life in a fire or other accident or die from a medical crisis.
Secondly, provision of emergency response beyond boundaries is a matter of reciprocity. At any time in the future, roles could be reversed with our district needing assistance in the aftermath of a disaster as with the 2017 landfall of Hurricane Irma just south of Naples. Firefighters from around the state worked alongside our own to ensure recovery and protection of our community.
In the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Michael, North Collier Fire traveled north to answer the Florida panhandle’s call for help.
Collier County Strike Team 604, led by North Collier Battalion Chief Robert Smith, included five engines and 28 personnel from area fire agencies. The team was deployed to the Callaway/Springfield/Parker area of Bay County, east of Panama City.
With nearly all of the area’s infrastructure damaged or destroyed, and many of the area’s firefighters and command staff dealing with their own personal tragedies, Team 604 immediately stepped in to fill the gap, implementing a communication and dispatch system to manage the all hazards response so desperately needed.
Responding to an average of 100 missions per each 12-hour shift, crews continuously worked search missions, gas leaks, structure fires and medical emergencies.
Beyond the typical, the crews’ duties expanded to creating make-shift street signs to label streets, clearing clogged roadways and boxing up and protecting personal items of personnel from damaged fire stations.
Chief Smith summarized the deployment best, “The past seven days were physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting for all us on the Strike Team, but we would do it all again without hesitation as our neighbors in the panhandle needed our help.”
This not only exemplifies time-honored firefighter culture, it also reminds us that many decisions that we as Commissioners tackle are not solely be based on budget, but must also consider the human element.
The Board of Fire Commissioners
North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District