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North Bay Village residents win battle with county for fire truck

 

Special to the Miami Herald

After an outpouring of emails, phone calls and in-person pleas, North Bay Village residents got what they wanted from the county – they will keep the Miami-Dade Fire Department fire truck stationed near their village.

At a Town Hall Tuesday night at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, Miami-Dade officials said they will not remove the fire engine at station No. 27, nearby the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station. The fire engine, stationed at 1275 NE 79th St., is equipped with a pumper and a 750-gallon water tank to put out fires.

The tipping point for county officials was a 1972 inter-local agreement between North Bay Village and Miami-Dade County that merged the village’s own fire department within the county’s.

“In that agreement, it says that there will be a pumper maintained in North Bay Village,” said Interim Village Manager Frank Rollason, who presented the agreement to the county Tuesday night.

Concern first started brewing among North Bay Village residents when a divided county commission voted to keep a flat tax rate for the Fire Department. That resulted in a tentative 2013-14 budget that proposes to eliminate three fire engines.

Village residents said that their unique geographic location – the village is accessible only from two drawbridges to the west and east – made the elimination of their fire engine particularly dangerous because response time would be significantly slower if the bridges are open.

“Our bridges … operate at the will of the recreational boats and ships. It takes about six minutes to open and close either bridge, when operating properly,” Commissioner Richard Chervony wrote in an email to residents urging them to address the issue with their county representatives. “The west bridge has the habit of getting stuck in the open position, then the time delays to 20 minutes or more.”

County Fire Chief Dave Downey told the Miami Herald that while North Bay Village’s fire engine has been saved, the county still has to eliminate three fire engines and 59 firefighter positions. County officials still are trying to work out which fire engines may face the ax.

The cuts are necessary because of a $5.3 million deficit in the fire department’s budget, Downey said.

“That $5.3 million is now our challenge. There’s nowhere else to cut. There’s nowhere else to eliminate positions,” he said.

Miami-Dade County has applied for a FEMA grant to help them keep the 59 firefighters on the job.

As for North Bay Village, residents and officials are relieved that the three-island municipality will not have to rely on fire engine service from its neighbors, such as Miami Shores’ station, at 9500 NE Second Ave.

“I understand budget cuts, but I have to also be sensitive to our geographic location,” said Chervony.

Added Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps: “Really, the fire engine is a necessity for us and not a luxury.”

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