City, county play hot potato with fire rescue
by Chip Skambis
Gainesville Fire Rescue is paying to board three firefighters and their truck at the Homewood Suites near I-75 to cover an area of the city that the county fire rescue normally handles.
GFR had to quickly fix the unforeseen gap in coverage Monday morning after receiving an email from Alachua County Fire Chief Ed Bailey saying the county would not be manning Fire Station 19, a county-owned station inside the city limits.
Because the station is the closest responding unit to an area of the city that includes the apartments on Southwest 20th and Butler plaza, the city pays the county to respond to emergency calls there.
According to an email, some toxic black mold growing in the men's bathroom led Alachua County Fire Rescue to move their trucks out of the station.
Chief Bailey said the county will keep Station 19 vacated until Thursday or Friday, when they expect all the mold will have been removed. When he learned that GFR had stationed a truck in the area, he said he was “kind of shocked.”
“There hadn’t been any discussions about doing that when I made the announcement,” Bailey said. “I thought we were still going to cover the area.”
Gene Prince, the chief of Gainesville Fire Rescue, said that response times to emergencies will be virtually the same during this period. The cost of a two-bed suite at Homewood Suites starts at $189 a night.
The area of land Station 19 covers was annexed into the city limits in 2009, and has been a money-sink for the city to cover ever since.
How to handle ownership of Station 19 was a subject of discussion at last Thursday’s city commission meeting. Chief Prince suggested simply renting an apartment near the station with firefighters to cover the area themselves—a proposition that made the commissioners uneasy.
The city currently pays the county upwards of $600,000 a year for Alachua County Fire Rescue to cover certain parts of the city, according to Prince.
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