By Marvin L. Easton
For the Collier Fire Administrative Services Committee
There are many arguments for, and as many arguments against consolidation of the five independent fire districts.
Or consolidation of Emergency Medical Services into fire departments.
Or consolidation of fire, EMS and the Sheriff's Department into a County Public Safety Department.
The variations go on and on.
"Smart" people are "studying" the alternatives, and have for over 25 years.
That does not preclude other initiatives that can provide for coordination and cooperation, without consolidation.
At the first-responder operational level, the coordination and cooperation among all the nine fire departments in Collier County via mutual aid (when one fire department directly calls for help from another), and automatic aid (when the nearest fire department to a 911 call is dispatched, no matter the political/taxing area) operates very well for the public interest.
There are presently other notable and successful coordination/cooperation efforts, such as Big Corkscrew and Immokalee sharing some administrative staff, as well as their current sharing of one fire chief for both fire districts.
Marco Island contracts with East Naples for vehicle maintenance. North Naples and East Naples share mechanics when needed, as do Golden Gate, Immokalee and Big Corkscrew.
The coordinated fire code office handles this function for all five districts.
However, at present there is little coordination or cooperation in the "back office" administrative area.
The self-appointed Collier Fire Administrative Services (CFAS) Committee (me, Carson Beadle, Ken Ginsberg, Joe Moreland and John Svirsky), working with the chiefs and commissioners of the five fire districts conducted a study to examine what efficiencies might be realized in the coordination of administrative functions. They found that multiple different application software packages are used for the same functions. Multiple vendors are used for similar products and services thereby sub-optimizing buying power opportunities.
CFAS will recommend the establishment of a Florida "not for profit corporation", initially comprising these five districts and having the ability to add nearby fire departments, to increase buying power, at a later date.
This non-profit would offer a menu of administrative services from which the member fire districts could pick and choose.
The five Collier County independent fire districts currently spend nearly $11 million on all types of outside products and services. Well over half of that amount is in insurance premiums and related charges. The CFAS study has identified potential annual savings — ranging from $1.35 million to $1.6 million without the addition or reduction of a single employee. Coordinated joint purchasing will be proposed as the initial focus of the new association. Some supplier changes and compromises would probably be required to achieve these projected savings.
The CFAS Committee thanks the administrators, chiefs and commissioners for their cooperation during the study. The five independent fire district commissions will be meeting in mid-September to decide if implementing the CFAS recommendations of cooperating with the other fire districts is to their benefit.
These meetings are scheduled for Big Corkscrew, Sept. 11, 5:30 p.m.; East Naples, Sept. 12, 5:30 p.m.; Golden Gate, Sept. 12, 5:30 p.m.; North Naples, Sept. 13, 9 a.m., and Immokalee, Sept. 20, 6 p.m.
CFAS encourages the public to attend these meetings, ask questions and, if satisfied, support this significant dollar savings proposal initiative.
Coordination and cooperation, without consolidation, will save dollars that could be better utilized by the fire districts for other first-responder needs.