Flagler Beach debates buying a new fire truck as local retired fire officials say it's not needed

Stephen Cox, captain of the Flagler Beach Fire Department, said the old ladder truck is near the end of its useful life.

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  • | 3:10 p.m. September 20, 2021
  • Palm Coast Observer
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by: Isaac Sanders

Contributing Writer

Is another fire truck warranted for the Flagler Beach Fire Department, or is the department growing faster than it should? The final budget hearing is scheduled for Sept. 23.

The Flagler Beach City Commission conducted a workshop on Sept. 1 to discuss the purchase of a 2020 Pierce Enforcer for $546,333, to replace a 25-year-old ladder truck, Engine 111.

Stephen Cox, captain of the Flagler Beach Fire Department, said that in five more years, the Insurance Services Office wouldn’t consider Engine 111 as operable. Cox said the old ladder truck would still be available as a backup, giving the Fire Department a total of three trucks. The city has been planning on making this purchase since 2015, Cox said, and, on Oct. 1, the fire engine can be paid in full with no effect on the tax rate.

Retired Miami Dade Chief Fire Officer Art Woosley opposes the purchase. He wrote in an email sent out prior to the meeting that homeowners’ insurance premiums won’t be improved by the purchase of a new truck; furthermore, staffing is insufficient to man three trucks. 

“This UNFORTUNATELY is not a game, but instead it’s Big Bucks to a small community,” Woosley wrote.

Commissioner Jane Mealy asked for a response to Woosley’s ISO concern in the meeting. Cox said he reached out to ISO, which directed him to contact local insurance representatives, as they determine the premium prices, not ISO. His findings were that on estimate, the community would save 30% while ISO scores range between 1 and 4. 

In regard to the concern of not having sufficient staffing to man each truck, Cox explained that each truck will be fully equipped so no exchange of equipment would be necessary when an emergency comes, and extra staffing will be brought in for special events like the fourth of July.  

Mealy replied: “The commission over the last several years has worked on planning a rotation of buying vehicles of every department. … We have been planning for this one over the last four years.”

Mayor Suzie Johntson said: “This would single-handedly, possibly, be the most expensive thing I help purchase.” She asked whether, instead of having two reserve trucks, the county could loan a truck in the event the primary back up truck was already in use? 

Chief Robert Pace responded that the county doesn’t have multiple trucks at each station house. Such an arrangement can cause delays, and minutes can be critical when it comes to responding to emergencies such as a stroke.

Local resident and retired fire chief Paul Allen shared his perspective during the public comment section. He presented data that showed most of the Flagler County Fire Rescue’s calls are medical related, and smaller cheaper trucks are more suitable for that. In 2020, he reported, there were 37 fire calls, 446 medical assistance calls, and 1,454 incidents total.

“Flagler Beach Fire Department should be interested in looking into innovative approaches on ways they deliver services while saving money and reducing wear and tear on frontline equipment,” Allen said. 

Commissioner Eric Cooley asked whether some of the saved funds be reallocated to staffing. City manager William Whitson said that it would not be legal to do so, and more research would be necessary to see if there is any work around for that. 

To conclude the meeting, Commissioner Ken Bryan expressed what was similar to many comments from the public in the meeting: “I think about every dollar that we spend, but … our city, it's growing whether you like it or not … and we have to prepare for it. … My question is, how much is a life worth?” 

Mealy stated, “I’m more interested in having a well-run department that can accomplish its job.”

Commissioner Rick Belhumeur had a different opinion: “We are growing, I get that. But the Fire Department seems to be growing a little quicker than we are.” 


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