SLC fire fighters need more money for upgrades

Posted at 6:32 PM, Dec 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-10 18:32:31-05

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. -- Outdated fire stations and old fire trucks are only some of the issues fire fighters in St. Lucie County are dealing with.

Not only does it make their job tougher, but could also potentially put public safety at risk.

Now, St. Lucie County Fire District leaders are working with state lawmakers to find the funding to make needed improvements.

The fire district is given a budget each year of more than $60 million. Fire District Commissioner, Chris Dzedovsky, says that money is already being spent on other needs.

The district is relying on money in reserves to make ends meet.

That's why Dzedovsky and other fire district leaders want to increase the amount of money the  fire district can borrow from other lenders.

Right now, a fire district charter limits the fire district's borrowing ability to no more than $1.5 million. The charter hasn't been updated for nearly 20 years.

In that time, he says equipment and upgrades have become much more expensive. $1.5 million, he says, used to pay for plenty of needs. Now, it would only pay for two or three fire trucks.

Captain Brad Dashner at station 7 says the building was built in the 1970s. Back then, it only needed to accommodate two or three smaller trucks.

Now, they squeeze four trucks into the station and the trucks are much bigger than they used to be. "It's a little tight," Dashner said.

The district would like to eventually have the ability to fund a new, bigger building, potentially in a new location.

Dzedovsky says other stations, like station 5 on Port St. Lucie Blvd. also need to be relocated. When that station was built, traffic wasn't nearly the problem it is now. Fire trucks have to pull into busy traffic every time there is an emergency call.

Trucks throughout the county also need to be replaced. "Our rescue truck right now has 300,000 miles on it," Dashner said. "You always have that in the back of your mind. that hopefully today is not the day that something will go wrong," Dashner said.

The money isn't needed immediately, but Dzedovsky says expanding the borrowing limit puts them in a better position for needs in the future.

The population is growing along with the number of emergency calls.

He says the county averages 45,000 emergency calls each year, and that number increases about 5% each year.

"The fact is in today's world, St. Lucie County has grown by leaps and bounds. We are expecting to have over 340,000 people over the next 20 years so we're preparing today for the future. That's what this is about," Dzedovsky said.

Lawmakers are considering legislation to extend the borrowing limit to about $6 million, or 10% of the fire district's budget.

A decision is expected during the next legislative session.