As elected fire commissioners currently serving as the board chairs for our respective districts, we are totally committed to the effort to bring more efficiency and effectiveness to the fire and emergency services delivered to the citizens of Collier County.
The initial step, which is well under way, is to bring a ballot initiative in November 2014 to the residents of the East Naples and Golden Gate Fire districts which will ask them to merge the two districts into one new entity.
The two districts are currently operating under an interlocal agreement that will have saved the taxpayers over $500,000 in its first year, and we project even greater savings and efficiencies once the two districts are formally consolidated.
What could be a troubling development has taken place. Itshould be cause for concern among county taxpayers, developers and builders that are expecting efficient service from their local government.
All five independent and both dependent fire districts in the county currently participate and support a single Fire Code Officials Office (FCO). The purpose of this office is to review and approve plans for fire code compliance for new construction throughout the county, and to do so in a uniform manner which allows builders and developers to deal with a single entity on fire code issues. This office was created by the commissioners of the fire districts in the 1990s in response to complaints from government officials, builders and developers that the convoluted process in place at that time was confusing and inconsistent.
While it was a great idea to create the consolidated FCO, the effort fell short because they failed to close the loop and place the inspectors and fire marshals in the same office. This created a slightly better but still broken system, where the code was consistently reviewed by the FCO, but different fire inspectors from various agencies would interpret the results differently in the field. However, this effort stopped short of true consolidation by failing to put the field fire inspectors under the same umbrella organization as the FCO.
The commissioners from the North Naples Fire District voted to pull out of the countywide FCO and to undertake the plans review themselves.
While we respect their efforts, and understand their frustration with the inefficiencies of the current system, we are concerned that they are taking a step backward in providing efficient service to our constituents. Their efforts to remove themselves from the FCO will lead to problems for local developers and builders who will now have two separate agencies that review building plans for fire code compliance, which will be dependent on where in the county they happen to be building.
We have scheduled a workshop at a public meeting to be held at the Fire Code Officials office on Horseshoe Drive on Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. At this meeting we will propose a plan to consolidate all fire prevention functions throughout the county into one facility, and to appoint a senior manager to develop true, interactive cooperation with county building officials, including hardware, software and business practice integration. This is the logical step to provide efficient, customer service-based building plans review to accommodate the growth in our county while adhering to recognized fire safety guidelines.
This piece would be incomplete if we failed to acknowledge the leadership of Collier County Commissioner Tom Henning, who has been instrumental in bringing all the parties together to address the problems inherent in the fragmented fire and emergency services agencies in Collier County. His support is greatly appreciated.
These opinions are ours, and not necessarily those of our fellow fire commissioners.