By Dan Moffett
Organizers of a coastal fire district study are reaching out to the county pocket, believing its residents might benefit if a new arrangement for delivering emergency services goes forward.
Consultants are studying whether it is feasible to build a fire station in Briny Breezes as part of a coastal district plan. A Briny station would dramatically reduce response times to the pocket, which over the years has had reliability issues with mainland fire-rescue providers.
Gulf Stream Vice Mayor Robert Ganger, who has played a leading role in initiating the study, says the county pocket has to be considered in the decision-making going forward.
“I would like to be assured that the folks in the county pocket are at least apprised of what’s happening,” Ganger said. “The county may not view them as important as they view themselves. It is conceivable that the new facility could really be across the street from where they live.”
Ganger said that if a district plan proves feasible, the participating municipalities — Gulf Stream, Briny Breezes, Ocean Ridge, Manalapan and South Palm Beach — would likely seek an interlocal agreement with Palm Beach County to handle fire-rescue services for the pocket.
Roughly 150 residents live in the sliver of county land between Gulf Stream and Briny Breezes, and in 2009 they got a hard look at the deficiencies in their emergency services. Bill Dunn, a 48-year-old longtime resident in the pocket, choked to death while it took Palm Beach County Fire Rescue almost 13 minutes to respond to the 911 call.
“Anyone knows you can’t provide lifesaving service with a response time like that,” said Mike Smollon, one of Dunn’s neighbors. “We theoretically have service from the county, but we have the worst service and don’t get what we pay for. But it’s not about money. We don’t get adequate service at any price.”
Smollon brings expertise to the table. He is a former Boynton Beach firefighter who retired as a battalion chief after 28 years with the department. Smollon says he pays the county roughly $1,500 in property taxes each year for fire-rescue services and thinks the district idea is worth exploring.
“It’s definitely something people in the pocket could benefit from,” he said.
After Dunn’s death, Boynton Beach and the county signed a mutual aid agreement in the hope of improving response. But for pocket residents, no provider on the mainland compares with having a station in or near Briny Breezes.
Matrix Consulting Group of Keller, Texas, began its study of the coastal municipalities in December and is expected to deliver its report on the fire district’s feasibility in March.
The consultants are inviting all coastal residents to participate in an online survey and voice their opinions about the fire district proposal. The Matrix survey can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/BarrierIsland.
Or, residents can contact the company’s lead project analyst, Robert Finn, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The survey takes five to 10 minutes to complete and all responses are anonymous.