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Fire Chief

As we enter the FY2016 budget year, we do so with the knowledge that our environment is changing.  The economic outlook is much brighter than it has been in years past.  Property values are starting to rise, existing homes are being bought and sold, new homes are being built, and commercial construction is climbing again.  Goods and services are in demand and signs of consumer spending are apparent in our community.  Just visit a local restaurant on a Friday or Saturday night or go shopping at one of our retail establishments on the weekend and you’ll see the difference. Optimism and opportunity have returned.

To handle the increasing demand for our services, address the needs of our residents and visitors, and position ourselves for what’s coming, the District must re-examine, redevelop, and reinvigorate many aspects of our daily operations.  With calls for service approaching 48,000 (45,721 last year), and the average annual increase exceeding 4%, staffing is crucial for our success and those levels are currently being addressed.  Positions lost through attrition during the recession have now been filled and hiring will continue through the budget year as our employees retire.  This reflects our commitment to the community to provide a quality service while maintaining the safety of our firefighters.  As with anything, a careful balancing of resources with service demand is required.

As we prepared this budget and looked toward the future, here’s what our joint staffing efforts have accomplished in just a few short months:

  • 25 firefighter positions have been filled and 9 more are to be filled during this budget.
  • The Command Staff has been reorganized to reflect the primary functions of our organization – Operations, Training, Fire Prevention, and Administration.
  • Training and Fire Prevention positions have been filled.
  • The Communications Division has been restructured with a Communications Coordinator.
  • 2 more Tele-Communicators have been hired.
  • Fleet Maintenance is improving records management and scheduling with a Service Manager.
  • Finance, under the direction of the Clerk-Treasurer, has been restructured to address Payroll, Records, and Budgeting.
  • Human Resources is concentrating on internal customer service improvements including pre-retirement counseling/training and pension information processing.
  • Information Technology is improving data use and processing with a GIS systems analyst and systems coordination with a re-designated MIS Coordinator familiar with end-user needs.
  • Our system of hiring new employees has been restructured to better evaluate potential candidates and includes participation in the selection process from mid-level supervisors.

Our efforts to provide a quality service and place the District in a better posture to meet demands aren’t limited to staffing alone.  We’ve taken a multi-pronged approach to improve our financial and operational positions.  This year, with the support of our local Legislative Delegation, we are pursuing a change to our Charter to improve our antiquated borrowing power – something long overdue.  We have engaged Pierce Manufacturing and Pierce Financial Solutions in partnership with PNC Bank to help us restore our Fleet Replacement Program – an endeavor that had been lost in the economic downturn.  Employing strategies like these allow us to adequately plan for the needs of those we serve while maintaining our fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers.  These strategies also stimulate new ideas that create greater efficiencies throughout the Fire District.  Things like lighter, more maneuverable vehicles with improved capabilities, the use of biodiesel as an alternative fuel, increased use of LED lighting, and many more new concepts are on the horizon.

As we progress through this budget year and move forward to the next, we must also be vigilant and careful so that we don’t slip backwards in terms of what’s been accomplished.  This summer, the District will once again be evaluated by the Insurance Services Organization (ISO) – a leading source of information on property and casualty insurance risk.  The information supplied by ISO to insurance underwriters helps them establish fire insurance premiums around the country.  The last time the Fire District was evaluated was 2010 and much has changed in the last 5 years.  Back then, we were successful in improving our Public Protection Classification (PPC) rating to a 3 countywide – which generated savings between $200 and $2000 annually depending on the home’s location and value.  Our challenge this year will be to improve it again, to a classification of 2, or, at the very least, hold on to what we have.  The changes in the FY2016 budget for staffing for operations, training, fire prevention, communications, and GIS, combined with strategies for fleet maintenance and vehicle replacement have been formulated with this evaluation in mind.

ISO is only one of many standards or benchmarks the Fire District uses to gauge its performance.  The National Fire Protection Association, the Florida Fire Chiefs Association, and many other organizations can help us determine if we are consistently providing the service expected of us and whether we’re applying the industry’s best practices on par with our fire and emergency services peers around the country.  Our commitment in this regard is established in Goal 8 of our 2014-2019 Strategic Plan.  Through the pursuit of Fire Accreditation during this budget and the next two, the District is determined to demonstrate to the public and our peers that we are providing the most effective, efficient, and highest quality Fire and Emergency Medical services anywhere.

None of this would be possible without the tireless work of our employees both on and off duty.  Many of their ideas, comments, and suggestions for improvement have been incorporated into our plans going forward.  What we can accomplish together is significantly greater than our individual talents allow.  I am sincerely grateful for their efforts in making this community a better place for us all.

Buddy Emerson
Fire Chief