Pasco County’s professional firefighters are continuing to call attention to the need for more personnel and equipment to keep the county safe, and to meet its burgeoning emergency needs.
Jesus J.J. Martinez, vice president of Local 4420, appeared before the Pasco County Commission on April 19, to continue the quest to secure more resources. His remarks followed the appearances of two others representing firefighters who spoke at the April 5 meeting.
Martinez began by thanking the county and county board for what has been done so far.
“Pasco County is growing at an alarming rate,” he said. “We are being told that Rescue 230 will be in service by the first week of May, and Station 9 by the end of the summer.”
“With that said, I’m asking you for help,” he said.
Additional fire stations and rescue vehicles are needed, as well as more personnel, he said.
“Our 37 new hires is now down to 32, as many of them have left for other departments, with better pay and better benefits.
“We lost seven experienced firefighters because they are simply burned out from the large call volume, and relief is nowhere in sight.
“The county will continue to grow and the amount of emergency calls is increasing faster than we have all expected,” Martinez said.
“We worked with our administration to do what we can to help with these issues,” he said.
He continued: “Pasco firefighters are a proud breed.
“We love our job. We love this county and we love the citizens in it.
“But we are human.
“I got a call from a friend of mine, in the Wesley Chapel area. He was responding to a call. “They’d just pulled in the station. They came from a call, rescue was transporting.
“They got another call. They were in and out of the station in 30 seconds.
“The GPS said they were 18 minutes away. Within 17 minutes, the patient stopped breathing. It took 18 minutes to get there. Their ambulance, took 23 (minutes), from their station.
“All this firefighter could think of: ‘What if I got there sooner? What if I could make a difference?
“We have the tools. We have the knowledge. We just need to get there sooner.
“This is just one example of what is going on in our county.
“We are here today because this story haunts us.
“It’s time to do better, and our residents deserve better.
“We’re willing to work with you for our citizens,” Martinez said.
Board approves Fire Rescue items
Later in the meeting, Commissioner Mike Moore pulled three items from the board’s consent agenda to call attention to them.
“I think I’ll probably pull every item relating to Fire Rescue going forward because we have lots of questions,” Moore said.
“There’s questions from the team members that are out there. J.J. spoke today. So, I think for the best interest for the people who work for Fire Rescue, as well as our citizens, it’s important to talk about these things that are on the agenda.
“Normally, these are on consent because they are items we feel are not going to be deliberated. They get through with no problem and they’re not controversial. They’re for the good of all,” Moore said.
Moore asked Jeremy Sidlauskas, deputy chief of administration for Pasco County Fire Rescue, to provide some details on the agenda items.
One item relates to adding eight fire inspectors, who will conduct inspections of existing commercial uses.
The county plans to hire 11, the deputy chief said. “Once that (the first eight) becomes cost neutral based on fees and other things, we’ll hire the remaining three.”
Another item calls for using Penny for Pasco funds for a decontamination unit, to provide a “premiere state-of-the-art, on-scene decontamination program, unlike anything that happens in the whole world,” Sidlauskas said.
Currently, a lot of gear must be sent out for cleaning, he said.
The Decon unit provides Pasco County firefighters with clean gear after every fire, Hazardous Materials incident and significant EMS incident, before returning to the station.
Another item related to replacing three ambulances and adding one new one.
Some vehicles that normally would be considered surplus are being kept for parts because of supply chain issues.
Part of the delay in putting an additional rescue has been related to staffing.
“This class that is just finishing their orientation should be done right around the end of the month,” Sidlauskas said. That’s why Rescue 230 is expected to go into service on May 1, he added.
The board approved all three agenda items.
Moore also asked the deputy chief to verify some numbers: “From fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2022, there was a 31% increase in engine count; a 39% increase in rescue count. Is that correct?”
Sidlauskas responded: “Yes, sir, some of that includes spare vehicles that we have to keep for maintenance.”
After the deputy chief’s remarks, Commission Vice Chairman Jack Mariano addressed the county’s firefighters, paramedics and first responders.
“We greatly appreciate your service. We share the same passion you do, to serve the citizens out here, every step of the way.
“What you do in the field, with the resources you have, currently, is fantastic.
“We’re working to help you get it better, every step of the way, as fast as we can, we’re going to keep on working.”
“From all my years, the communication that we’ve had back and forth, has led to more and more improvement,” he said.
The county board wants to continue to work with the emergency responders.
“If that means we need to do a workshop, we want to do that as well,” Mariano said.
“But I encourage you, stay in communication with us. Let us work with you. Let us try to help you, so you can be in a situation where you’re proud of being where you’re at, and a sense of knowing all the resources that are going that way.
“We don’t want to see a situation where you show up a minute after, when needed,” he said.
“We want to make sure you have that job satisfaction. Keep working with us; we’ll keep working with you,” Mariano said.
Published April 27, 2022