Marco Island City Council unanimously voted Monday to hire three more firefighter-emergency service technicians after seeing a 26 percent increase in emergency calls over the past two years as the island continues to grow.
The addition of one firefighter per shift, a yearly cost of $224,784, means Marco Island Fire Rescue Department will improve its response time and reduce reliance on outside agencies responding.
After voting Sept. 30 with the rest of council to remove the positions Chief Mike Murphy sought, Councilman Bob Brown admitted he’d held up the vote last fall and felt responsible.
"We’re under an obligation to take care of everyone on Marco Island and everyone who visits Marco Island," Brown said just before the 6-0 vote. "… I want to be the guy that gets things moving forward."
Councilman Joe Batte also had urged his fellow council members to support the plan after some expressed concern over the cost.
"We can save money in other areas, but you can’t save money on the protection and service of your people," Batte said.
The addition of three firefighters comes just after Collier County commissioners agreed to provide a seasonal ambulance on the island. Service began Saturday, four days after commissioners approved a temporary plan to improve response times countywide. That vote also approved an Isles of Capri ambulance responding to Marco calls if a Marco ambulance is busy with another call.
Murphy told council the seasonal ambulance wasn’t enough.
"We’ve seen a dramatic increase in our calls," he said.
Murphy’s presentation showed that for 528 times last year, there was an overlap of two calls, and there were three calls simultaneously 122 times. Last month, two calls came simultaneously 56 times, and three incidents occurred concurrently 17 times.
Murphy also said fire trucks are tied up on emergency medical scenes while waiting for an off-island ambulance. Of 464 medical emergencies, 117 — or one out of four — involved response by an off-island ambulance, which can take nine to 29 minutes, his presentation showed.
"We’re a high-rise community," Murphy said, noting 25,000-30,000 cars cross the bridge onto the island daily. "We have an elderly population base on this island and we’re seeing more strokes. … Our population base is growing."
Records show there has been a 10 percent increase in calls in fiscal 2014, and a 10 percent jump in mutual aid requests by other agencies needing additional units. Murphy also noted the city needs to keep up with operating standards.
Residents also urged council to approve hiring the three firefighters.
"Your obligation is to provide for the safety of the community," local gadfly Bill McMullan told council.
Under the approved plan, a quick response vehicle will be used to respond to emergency calls, reducing wear and tear on aerial and other engines.
The new employees would enable the department to staff the quick response vehicle 24/7, improve staffing deficiencies, reduce the response of the Tower 50 extension ladder truck to medical emergencies, improve that truck’s longevity, lower the aerial maintenance costs by $31,000 this fiscal year, and enable Marco to reduce dependency on other agencies.