New fire/EMS station opens on Alligator Alley

Steve Stefanides

Marco Islanders can rest assured that if the need arises for emergency services between the toll booths at exit 101 and those in Broward County, they will have less time to wait for emergency aid. That is especially true for the segment between Exit 80 and Exit 50 (the Miccosukee fuel stop) on Alligator Alley.

Many islanders take Alligator Alley (I-75) to access airports, cruise terminals, entertainment venues, shopping opportunities and family on the East Coast.

Recently, the Florida Department of Transportation in conjunction with the Ochopee Fire District and Collier County Emergency Management opened a fully staffed and equipped fire/EMS facility at the rest area at Mile Marker 63 on the Interstate.

From 1986 to 1992, the four-lane segment of Alligator Alley between Mile Marker 101 in Naples and the Mile Marker 25 Toll Plaza on the east end of the Alley was built. This was done in an effort to provide a safer route of travel for vehicles and in recognition of the growth in traffic counts.

Prior to the opening of the completed four lanes of traffic, the existing two lanes of travel were known for a number of horrific head-on fatal collisions.

"It was Chief Vince Doerr who served as the first fulltime Fire Chief of the Ochopee Fire District who was an avid proponent of an emergency services facility out on the Alley starting in 1988," said Alan McLaughlin, the district's present chief. "He never believed that the incident rate would decline," said McLaughlin. "He felt traffic and the associated issues would continue to climb, especially with the plans to complete the four lane highway, and they have."

On May 1, a plaque dedicating the station to Chief Doerr will be placed at the facility now called Station 63. It will recognize his leadership and vision said McLaughlin.

Prior to the opening of the new station help would have to come at least 20 miles from Everglades City before it could even reach the 30-mile segment of the I-75 corridor, which is the primary area of coverage for the new station. The actual agreement with DOT, however, is for availability of the equipment and manpower to go from the Naples Toll Booth to the western Broward County Toll Facility near Weston if the need should arise.

Since opening the station in November, crews have run approximately 91 calls. Those calls ranged from heart attacks, vehicle fires, fuel spills and motor vehicle accidents. In addition to the enhanced protection to motorist, the personnel stationed at the facility on I-75 are also responsible for responding to emergency calls for hikers along a 28 mile stretch of the Florida Trail that runs through Collier County. The trail runs 6 miles north to the Hardy County Line and 22 miles south to the Dade/Monroe County Line.

The Florida Trail, which was established in 1966 extends from the Big Cypress National Preserve up to Fort Pickens at the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola. The trail provides for backpacking and hiking adventures for those wishing to take advantage of the scenic hiking venues.

There is an access to the trail located with a registration point in a parking area behind the new station located at the rest area.

The station will house 12 new firefighters and emergency medical personnel who will man a new pumper/tanker, heavy rescue with fire suppression capability, a four-wheel-drive brush/quick response unit and an all-terrain Kubota that can maneuver the hiking trail to provide assistance to the injured or ill.

Lt. Robert Mayberry, one of the shift commanders at Station 63, pointed out the increase in medical calls at the rest area or drive-ins to the station from motorists who may have previously driven on to either Naples or Broward County after feeling ill.

"These are people who may have become ill on their trip across the Alley," said Lt. Mayberry. "We can now provide them the necessary aid while we wait for transport, either by air or ground, depending upon the severity of the call," said Mayberry.