I was recently invited to attend a meeting between the Jacksonville Beach Fire Department and the City of Jacksonville Beach regarding a possible consolidation of services between the fire departments of Jacksonville Beach and the City of Jacksonville (JFRD). George Forbes, the Jax Beach city manager, stated that the discussions between him and COJ had ceased and that they were going to wait until the Atlantic Beach/Neptune Beach contract expired in 2020. The firefighters stated that they thought the contract did not expire until 2024, not 2020. Forbes also stated that he would not be willing to consolidate unless there was a substantial savings, which he would not disclose, to the citizens of Jacksonville Beach.
The firefighters stated that they had talked to Sam Mousa, Chief Administrative Officer for COJ, and that he explained to them that during his negotiations with Forbes, his offer was a fluctuating $3.1 million to consolidate. The operating budget for JBFD is approximately $3.8 million, which would save the citizens roughly $700,000/year and possibly more.
The Jax Beach firefighters went on to explain that the fire department did not meet the National Fire Protection Association’s recommendations for minimum staffing levels to fight a fire in a 2,000-square-foot, single-story residential home, let alone a high-rise like Pablo Towers. A fire in Pablo Towers would require all their staffing, eight to nine people, to go to the fire floor, which would eliminate any help to the residents on the floors above the fire, including people who are wheelchair-bound and ones who use walkers.
Why is this important? When a fire alarm is activated, the elevators go to the ground level and can be operated only by the fire department, with a special key. They pointed out that smoke and heat rise to the floors above, which ultimately means that people above the fire floor would possibly die, because they wouldn’t be able to get down the stairs, nor would anybody be able to come up to help them. Consolidation equals more manpower for the citizens, which equals saving more lives.
Furthermore, the firefighters said that any 911 calls made by a cell phone in Jacksonville Beach automatically get routed to Jacksonville’s dispatch, ultimately delaying their response time as much as 2 to 3 minutes. Is this important? The answer is yes, because in cardiac arrest, if a person is not receiving oxygen, that person can become brain-dead in approximately 4 to 6 minutes.
Average response times of 3 to 4 minutes, plus 2 to 3 minutes of delay time, equals 5 to 7 minutes. With consolidation, the delay time would be eliminated, which could possibly save someone’s life. The Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating could possibly drop to a one, possibly lowering insurance premiums for business owners. Thus, consolidation equals more savings to the citizens.
The question one must ask is this: Is it not the duty of the City of Jacksonville Beach government to do everything it can, even relinquish power and control, to provide the highest level of service to the citizens, while saving them money?
Sparrow, a resident of the beaches, is married to a Jacksonville Beach firefighter.