Concern has been brewing among North Bay Village residents and officials after reports that the village may lose its fire engine.
The fire engine, a vehicle equipped with a pumper and a 750-gallon water tank to put out fires, is currently housed at county station No. 27 at 1275 NE 79th St., near the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station.
A divided county commission voted not to increase the tax rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year. For now, the decision puts six fire trucks on the chopping block, including the fire engine that services North Bay Village.
“Our village is surrounded by water and we have two drawbridges, so God forbid we have a catastrophe and the bridges are closed and we have a fire,” Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps said. “Then what? We have to rely on Miami Shores? We have to rely on Miami? No. That’s not right."
The three-island municipality of North Bay Village is accessed only through the two drawbridges. One is to the west connecting the village to Miami, and the other is to the east, providing access to Miami Beach.
The station’s fire engine, which also provides first-aid help, responded to 823 incidents during 2012, or roughly 69 calls per month. Half of those calls came from North Bay Village, Fire-Rescue spokeswoman Griselle Marino said. The fire engine also serves as a backup to the stations in Miami Shores and North Miami.
But Interim Village Manager Frank Rollason, who has spoken with county Mayor Carlos Gimenez on the matter, said this number should not factor in the decision of whether the fire engine should stay or go.
“It’s not here because of the number of calls,” Rollason said. “It’s here because of the bridges.”
Residents and elected officials plan to fight the proposed cut of the fire engine by reaching out to county commissioners and attending the budget hearings in September.
Leon-Kreps said she had emailed the eight elected county officials who voted to approve the proposed budget, and she has encouraged other residents to do the same.
In his reply, Commissioner Juan Zapata told Leon-Kreps that the proposed fire-engine cut is a result of state-instituted, unfunded pension obligations that will lead to a “$4.3 million hole” in the county’s fire department, even though the department will receive about $7 million in additional funds.
Even though, under the proposed budget, the county plans to eliminate the service of North Bay Village’s fire engine, the station itself will stay open.
The proposed fire-engine elimination will result in a $2.6 million expense reduction in the county’s budget, which includes personnel costs, said Vanessa Santana-Penate, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County.
If the fire engine is eliminated, North Bay Village will rely on fire-engine services from the nearest stations, such as the one in Miami Shores, at 9500 NE Second Ave.
That is not much consolation to village residents like Doris Acosta.
“Anything across the bridge is, to me, concerning,” she said.
Under the proposed county budget, which is not final until it is approved at the hearings in September, the county also plans to shut down 14 library branches — a decision that does not worry Rollason, the interim manager, as much as the cuts to the fire stations.
“If you close a library, maybe someone has to drive another five minutes to another library," he said. "If you close the fire station, somebody can’t take their burning house to another fire station."
Miami Herald Staff Writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.