Commissioners approved a study to determine where to build future fire and EMS stations.
The needs assessment will examine the current locations of Highlands County’s EMS and fire stations and match response times across the county.
“It’s going to take 120 days to perform?” Commissioner Don Elwell asked. “I agree it needs to be done, but do we want to wait that long? Should we move forward with the EMS stations? We have the plan partially finished. Isn’t it possible to expedite the timeline to maybe four or five months?”
The county has delayed construction of three EMS stations while waiting for a contract to be prepared. In the meantime, the downtown EMS station is in a 1923 house; the Valerie Road station is in a 1950 home; and the main EMS station shares a manufactured home with Harvey Craven’s administrative offices.
“It’s only 11 years old,” the Highlands County EMS director said last month. “But it’s got a lot of, I guess you call them environmental conditions.” The roof leaks. The septic tank must be pumped every few months. The heating and air conditioning system is insufficient.
On Sept. 16, commissioners ordered a needs assessment from Fitch and Associates, a Missouri firm that consults on EMS and fire stations. When that report comes on March 30, commissioners can make decisions.
Commissioners have been discussing the downtown station on Eucalyptus Street for at least a decade. Earlier this year, a budget was developed to replace it, but line-item funding was removed while administrators re-evaluate the options.
Since Sun N’ Lake supervisors decided to end their full-time, paid fire service and contract with West Sebring volunteers, the county has tentatively agreed to build a combined EMS, fire and sheriff’s substation next to Florida Hospital Heartland.
“This is the first time we’ve looked into this in over 20 years,” Elwell argued. “The county has certainly changed in 20 years. It’s grown in certain areas and not in others… The question is where the buildings need to be and what is the cost? One more station, one less station, and will that reduce our response time?”
For more information, view highlandstoday.com