Four cities in northwest Broward agreed Wednesday night to take the first step toward creating one giant fire department.
Leaders in Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Margate and Parkland are considering merging into one regional unit if two things can be accomplished: lowering costs for taxpayers and improving service.
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Rather than “every city buying fire trucks, every city having fire inspectors, I believe there is a savings,” said Margate Mayor Pam Donovan. “I believe it’s better for the residents because when a call comes in, the closest unit will show up.”
The leaders agreed Wednesday night for all respective cities to approve authorizing a study within the next 30 days. Then, the cities have to agree on what specifically they want an independent firm to look at in the study.
The elected officials will meet again within the next two months. There is no timetable for the study to be complete, or when an ultimate decision will be made. The study could cost each city up to $40,000.
“If we get a study that the cities save $20,000, you might as well keep what you have,” Donovan said. “If it’s not broke why fix it. But if we can lower residents [taxes] and fire fees, that’s something to really look at.”
Advocates of a regional service say it could cut costs by eliminating the duplication of positions of management. But opponents say they like each city to have their individual identities. The Coral Springs department currently provides emergency services to Parkland. And Margate’s fire department contracts with Coconut Creek to provide fire and paramedic service. The proposal could eliminate fire chiefs, multiple fire prevention bureaus and separate training divisions.
Coral Springs Commissioner Larry Vignola said the concept has potential.
“Listen, when we’re talking about EMS and fire, every second counts,” he said. “If God forbid my child is at the bottom of the pool, I want the first person there, it doesn’t matter what’s written on their shirt or on their truck. There are times when maybe Margate can come in and help one of our residents before we can get there. If we can improve response times and save lives, I’m all for it.”
But Parkland Commissioner David Rosenof said it’s still early to jump to conclusions. “I’m still exploring, I’m still listening,” he said. “The options are still evolving. Maybe one option is to stay where we are, that might be the most viable option or it might be something else.”
Rosenof said one possibility is to look at the merger less as a “regionalization, but a commitment to work together on closest unit response.”
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