By Orly Stolts
North Naples Fire Control District
Many "facts" have been disseminated lately regarding the North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District, and much of that information has been misleading or downright incorrect.
I'd like to set the record straight.
The district has provided emergency fire, rescue and medical services for over 50 years for the maximum taxing rate of 1 mill, or $1 for every $1,000 of appraised value. We are the only independent fire district in Collier County that has not asked for a millage increase.
The board has worked diligently to build reserves to the current level of $13.9 million, to insure financial solvency, prepare for emergencies, and provide for capital needs. We have no debt. We have opted not to construct a new station and obligate our taxpayers to multi-million dollar debt, unlike other districts that have indebted their constituents to the tune of millions.
Yet, the NNFD Board is accused of being financially irresponsible? I think not. The budget has been cut by 20 percent since 2007. Starting firefighter pay has been reduced by 24 percent, and chief and support positions reduced by 40 percent. Personnel costs are projected to be reduced by more than $2 million in the next five years as long-term employees retire.
Much has been said about our employee pay and benefits. How do we compare to other agencies? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the mean hourly rate for a firefighter in Florida is $24.04 per hour; NNFD's is $24.24! For a company officer, the average hourly rate is $37.37; for NNFD it's $35.38. When compared with 11 similar agencies in South Florida, NNFD ranks eighth in pay and benefits.
NNFD's pay and benefits are a reflection of the long-term tenure of its employees, the high level of professionalism and experience they bring to their job, and the number of hours they work per year. Shift employees work a 52-hour week (excluding overtime) or more than 700 hours a year for a 40-hour fulltime employee. This amounts to working an extra four months every year. They work a total of about 2,900 hours per year, compared to 2,080 for a traditional 40-hour fulltime employee. At NNFD, the average length of service is 15 years, with 22 percent of employees having 20 or more years of service and 60 percent having 10 or more years of service. What does this mean to the residents? A better level of service, and a more proficient and experienced emergency responder when it really matters — when lives and property are at risk, and time is of the essence.
There has also been an attempt to identify "per capita" costs for service, a totally useless statistic. Residents don't pay for fire and emergency rescue service based on population. We don't charge residents for responses by dividing the cost among residents, nor do we charge user fees. It has been stated that Collier County Emergency Medical Services has the lowest "per capita" cost, but there are also user fees charged. I'm sure those who have received a bill for a $700 ambulance ride might dispute a $55 per capita charge. By the way, two other fire service providers that share borders with NNFD have a significantly higher "per capita" fee of $100 to $150 more than NNFD.
As for running an "unnecessary advanced life support program that duplicates services," I beg to differ. We augment service provided by Collier County EMS. Just ask the individuals who received lifesaving, advanced life support care by NNFD before a Collier County ambulance arrived if they felt our service was "unnecessary." If this is such an unnecessary service, why do most of the fire service providers throughout the country provide ALS service?
My goal here is not to make disparaging remarks about any of the other emergency service providers in Collier County. There is no doubt they are all dedicated professionals providing high quality emergency service to the public, no matter which agency they work for. What I am attempting to do is combat misinformation put forth by "civic activists" with personal agendas. It's a well-known fact that statistics can be formulated to support any position, especially if you already have a position before looking at the facts.
Before you form an opinion about North Naples Fire District, be sure you have the "rest of the story." I urge you to contact us at 597-3222 with your questions.