Emergency Rescue Truck to Leave the Beach
By Anne McKay Garris
As of September 1, 2008, Clearwater Beach Fire Station no longer has an emergency rescue truck on hand. City officials have determined that it is more needed at the new North Greenwood station and, evidently, there are not sufficient funds to have one at both places. Still at the Beach station are a fire engine and three fire fighters. Either all, or one of them has paramedic capabilities. With the one fire engine they stand ready to fight fires, rescue people from elevators and respond to medical emergencies, provided none of them happen at the same time.
In the 1960s, two young boys escaped their baby sitter and went for a swim in the Gulf at Clearwater Beach. Both were found face down in the water. One was revived by a school teacher who had learned "mouth to mouth resuscitation." This one survived. The other boy didn't. People in the community felt if there had been a resuscitator available nearby, both boys would have survived. The neighborhood petitioned for a resuscitator to be available at the fire station. If memory serves, the cost of that first resuscitator was borne by the family of the boy that drowned.
Since that time there has always been the best emergency response equipment available at the Beach Station, just two to three minutes away from Clearwater Beach or Island Estates homes, motels, or businesses. This has added considerably to the quality of living in our island communities.
The rescue truck that left the Beach this week had the capability to drive onto the beach sand and provide prompt care for people who get into trouble while sunning or bathing. This was especially helpful, a few years ago, when five people were struck by lightning at the same time.
The fire engine, no matter how well equipped to attend to medical emergencies, can only go to the end of the nearest street. Fire Chief Jamie Geer says, however, that the Beach Station is equipped with an all terrain vehicle, capable of carrying a stretcher and available whenever the lieutenant in charge feels its use is necessary.
In the 1980s, when the population of Clearwater Beach was much smaller, there were as many as nine personnel at the station on any given shift. But, in 2008, the city has grown, and there is increasing need for resources elsewhere. Unfortunately we also have a budget crunch. And so we are told by our city officials, "In an effort to maximize the resources of the Clearwater Fire And Rescue Division we are starting a trial period to identify the Emergency Medical Services deployment resources in the city."
Because the North Greenwood station had 1,856 calls for EMS service in 2007, and the Beach station had only 1,067 calls, the city has decided to move the EMS Rescue vehicle to North Greenwood, along with the two personnel to man it. This leaves one fire engine at the Clearwater Beach Station with three personnel to man it. When the rescue truck was on site, the fire engine capability was "basic life support" in both personnel and equipment. Now that there is only the one engine, it will supply the personnel and equipment for "advanced life support." This is necessary because there are certain procedures that a medic with advanced equipment and trained in advanced life support can do which "basic life support" does not include. And, the city promises, "We will make sure that the Beach Engine is staffed with four personnel as often as possible, although only three, one of which is a paramedic, is the requirement."
When our one engine is busy, backup comes from the Sand Key Station, or the Downtown Station, both of whom have a response time of 10 minutes to the Beach, according to some reports, or four to six minutes according to city sources. All these response times, however, apply only if traffic on the Causeway, or on the South Beach is not hopelessly stalled.
One more statistic remains unrevealed -- how many times will the reduced EMS response on Clearwater Beach cost someone their lives?
The fire system is so complicated that the Fire Chief can confidently say that there will be no change in effectiveness of service on Clearwater Beach and Island Estates while Fire fighters who have worked in the field argue that the reduction of personnel from five to three and vehicles from two to one cannot help but affect the time involved in responding to EMS calls.
The change will be in effect for a six-month period and will then be revaluated, according to Chief Geer. The determining point will be which station has the most calls for emergency assistance. Presumably, if more people have called for EMS service on the Beach and Island Estates by that time, than have been in North Greenwood, the rescue truck would return.
Asked why the Fire Department does not simply purchase an additional rescue vehicle, Chief Geer explained that the city contracts with Pinellas County for rescue services and, although he can move the vehicles around, he must get permission from the County to have more.
In the early years, Clearwater had only two communities, Clearwater Beach and the rest of the city (which began at the bay front and ended at Missouri Avenue). Both communities had their library, their civic center, their fire station. Clearwater Beach, for a long time, had the only recreation center in town. Regardless of the arguments, it seems unfair that Clearwater Beach must suffer reduction in so much that contributes to our quality of life just because other communities have developed.
It would seem that funds could be provided to supply adequate services for other communities without taking away from ours, if the Council was willing to spend the money we have on the welfare of the citizens rather than pouring it into schemes to lure crowds to downtown Clearwater. Who would benefit from this has never been made clear to the Clearwater citizens who are footing the bills.
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