During 2015, LGIFR’s current course and future possibilities were defined by these significant events.
1. New EMS Contract. Until this year, LGIFR’s EMS operations were funded entirely by private contributions and other fund raising activities because LGIFR’s contract with Charlotte County and Florida law prohibit the use of MSBU funds for EMS operations. For 2015 and future years, LGIFR has entered a second separate contract with the County under which the County provides $30,000 per year for EMS operations out of existing county non-MSBU tax revenue. The income from this second contract for EMS operations will ensure the long-term viability of LGIFR’s EMS program. And this will allow LGIFR to devote fundraising activities to financing the construction of a much-needed fire station to shelter the equipment and the on-duty personnel.
2. Assessment Vote. During 2014, the Board had reviewed current state and national standards for F&R and EMS operations, had consulted a number of experts, and had studied the extremely limited level of F&R and EMS service that can be performed by LGIFR’s single on-duty professional fire fighter paramedic. Based on those extensive studies, the Board voted in 2015 to schedule a special election in which the islanders were asked to authorize a 50% increase in the MSBU assessment in order to provide a second professional (fire fighter EMT) on duty at all times. In spite of several news letters from the Board and the Chief explaining the need for a second professional on duty 24/7, the islanders voted by a 2 to 1 margin to reject the proposed increase for the second on-duty professional.
3. Staffing System. In order to staff LGIFR’s one professional 24/7 position, Chief Demeter proposed that the Board discontinue the system of one full-time chief and a collection of part-time moonlighting personnel from other departments. The Chief recommended and the Board adopted a system of three full-time positions, using the typical firefighter shift schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off. The Chief serves as one of the three regular full-time positions at the same salary as the others, and is then paid a separate supplement for his administrative work. There is no requirement that any of the three reside on the island when not on duty, and LGIFR no longer leases a residence on the island for the Chief (a savings of $10,000 per year).
4. Volunteers. In order to use volunteers to supplement the one on-duty professional, Chief Demeter began a Firefighter I training class. Seven islanders came for the orientation session, and all but one declined to commit the 200 required hours of training. Since the class requires students working in teams, the class could not go forward with only one student. Therefore, there are no volunteers in training at this point, and there appears to be no real prospect of utilizing volunteers to supplement the one on-duty professional.
5. Bookkeeping. LGIFR’s volunteer bookkeeper resigned during the year. After the board obtained bids from professional bookkeeping services, the Board retained the services of the professional bookkeeping service that submitted the lowest bid.
6. Assessment Increase. In each year’s budget since the creation of the current LGIFR, several thousand dollars has been set aside as a “reserve” to cover the inevitable cost of replacing equipment as it succumbs to the harsh environment on the island and to accumulate a down payment on the construction of a fire station to shelter the existing equipment. With the same fixed MSBU income each year since 2010, and gradually increasing costs of operation each year, the amount available to set aside as a reserve has decreased each year. In 2015 for the first time, the operational costs have consumed the entire MSBU income from the Charlotte County F&R contract, leaving no money to set aside for a reserve for equipment replacement and building construction. To address this situation, the Board voted unanimously to request from Charlotte County the first increase in the MSBU assessment in the history of LGIFR. The Charlotte County Commissioners unanimously approved the requested increase of 5% totaling approximately $10,000 for 2016. This will allow the Board in 2016 to set aside a reserve of $10,000 for future equipment replacement and the fire station construction project.
7. Building Program. During 2015, a Building Committee chaired by Board member Fred Baruth conducted a detailed study of LGIFR’s equipment storage needs and the need for accommodations for on-duty staff. The Committee then conducted a detailed study of the County’s Palm Island fire station that was constructed to serve equipment storage and staff accommodation needs similar to those the Committee had identified for LGIFR. The Committee then obtained cost estimates for the construction of a station equivalent to the Palm Island station and cost estimates for the financing arrangements that would be required. Finally the committee studied LGIFR’s projected budgets over the foreseeable future. The Committee concluded that the MSBU income projected for 2016 (and for future years at the same level) would be adequate to finance construction of the proposed fire station. Based on its careful study of all the relevant considerations, the Committee recommended that a fire station construction program be initiated. The Committee’s full report will be presented at the December 5 Board meeting and will be transmitted to the newly elected Board for action after the new Board assumes office in January.
Looking ahead to 2016:
The second-last payment on LGIFR’s building lot will be made in January. The new Board must decide if and when to proceed with the building of a station.
The Board must continue to address the need for island-appropriate equipment and the need to access all island properties with that equipment.
Personnel will always be a difficult area for LGIFR. Our limited budget pays our employees will below the market rate for firefighter-paramedics, and it provides no health insurance or retirement plan. Additionally, LGIFR requires these underpaid employees to work alone in the event of a fire or medical emergency. So far it has proved very difficult for LGIFR to recruit and train volunteers to assist our professionals on an island where homeowners are absent from the island or otherwise unavailable for extended periods of time.