New $10.4M Marco Island fire station to include hurricane center, cancer prevention, tower

The new fire station in Marco Island, which would replace the one located at 1280 San Marco Rd., will include an emergency operations center, a training tower and cancer prevention technology, according to Chief Mike Murphy of the Fire-Rescue Department.

Marco Island City Council voted unanimously Feb. 3 to authorize the city manager to proceed with the architectural drawing of fire station 50, located by City Hall.

The new two-story building is estimated to cost over $10.4 million but as much as $11.7 million, according to a cost opinion made by BSSW Architects.

"The cost runs between $396 per square feet and the high end is possibly up to $445, including a 10 percent contingency (plan)," Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy said at the meeting.

Murphy said the plan is to finance $8.6 million through a 20-year bond at a 2.75 percent interest rate.

"The Fire Department keeps $560,000 a year in our bucket plan," Murphy said. "The annual debt service will be right at or around[...] the amount we budget."

The department's financial plan also includes up to $3.7 million in pending state and federal grants and $2.5 million from the city’s share of the local sales tax approved by Collier County voters in 2018.

"We have applied for a $650,000 state grant," Murphy said. "The Senate has approved $500,000 and the House has approved $400,000."

"We are one of the very few departments that actually has a fire station in the House budget and in the Senate budget."

Jared Grifoni, City Council vice-chair, said the 20-year bond is a "totally unnecessary debt for future generations."

"A 20-year bond at 2.75 percent [...] over the life of the loan results in $2.6 million in interest costs," Grifoni said. "So that's 30 percent of the principal balance that you would be financing."

"It's extra money that we don't need to pay."

Grifoni said the city will have enough funds to finance the construction without a bond.

"The sales tax that Collier County voters approved is going to result in $27 [...] million to the city of Marco Island over a seven year period," Grifoni said. "The money is there."

Grifoni also warned of what could happen if council approves the proposed bond.

"What's gonna happen in 20 years, 30 years, you need to do another improvement, well there's no money in the bucket anymore because we have already spent that money," Grifoni said. "You are gonna have to take another loan, another bond, and [...] interest rates are gonna be a heck of a lot higher then than they are now."

"It's a [...] debt and interest cycle that is going to really harm our citizens and it's gonna harm Marco Island's next generation."

Marco Island Fire-Rescue ladder truck parked at Fire Station 50 on June 7, 2019.

Erik Brechnitz, City Council chair, disagreed with Grifoni.

"Interests rates are never going to be this low again," Brechnitz said. "This is an opportunity do some really cost financing for a capital project that has a life of 40 to 50 years and we are only financing it for 20."

Brechnitz continued.

"The reason I like to finance capital projects of this kind with debt as opposed to paying cash is what I called intergenerational equity," Brechnitz said. "If we pay for all of it now that means that current citizens are paying for a structure that future citizens will not have to pay for the next 30 to 40 years and they should have some skin in the game."

"We certainly have the ability to take care of the debt service."

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Councilor Sam Young questioned why the city needs a "state-of-the-art facility for about six fires a year." He then chuckled.

"Sir, we run 3,500 medical calls plus we do emergency operations on a continual basis," Murphy said. "The building isn't just a fire station, the building really is a state-of-the-art emergency operations center."

The approximately 1,500 square foot emergency center will include media, tech and conference rooms in addition to 19 computer stations, said Murphy. 

Murphy also said the building itself will safely house and have the capacity to feed approximately 60 people in case of natural disasters such as hurricanes.

"After (Hurricane) Irma we had people begging to have a cool room or plug in their phones," Murphy said. "If (the Marco Island Police Department) building or City Hall would be wiped out, [...] here is a building that we will be able to continue the services; not just fire, we are talking police, we are talking building, we are talking management, we are talking council." 

The building's elevation will be 11 feet, two more than what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires, and will be able to resist up to 200 mph winds, Murphy said.

"Most recently we saw that during Irma, [...] when San Marco Rd. became a little canal and the water started coming up into the area of the fire station, [...] we actually abandoned that fire station," Murphy said.

A Marco Island Fire and Rescue truck  is parked at City Hall on June 27, 2019.

The building, which would replace the fire station located at 1280 San Marco Rd., will also include cancer prevention facilities and technology, Murphy said.

In 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health began a multi-year study of nearly 30,000 fire fighters from Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco to better understand the potential link between fire fighting and cancer. 

The fire fighters studied showed higher rates of certain types of cancer than the general U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control's website.

Based on U.S. cancer rates, fire fighters had a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths and these were mostly digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers.

There were about twice as many fire fighters with malignant mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and there were more cases of certain cancers among younger fire fighters. For example, fire fighters who were under 65-years-old had more bladder and prostate cancers than expected.

When comparing fire fighters to each other, the chance of lung cancer diagnosis or death increased with amount of time spent at fires and the chance of leukemia death increased with the number of fire runs.

The study was completed in 2015.

From 2019:The return of 51: MIFD dedicates newly rebuilt station

"All employees will come through the (decontamination) area, which will have showers and lockers for extra clothes," Murphy said. "You'll throw your clothes into a laundry and then you will proceed into the building itself, keeping the building as clean as we can."

The building will also include a training tower on its north side, Murphy said.

"We have no training tower any longer since we took 51 out," Murphy said. "The next training tower we can use is on Immokalee Road at Station 45 in this county." 

Another significant improvement is an expansion of the fire bay area.

"We are actually increasing the length of the bay," Murphy said. "In (hurricanes) Irma and Wilma we didn't have adequate space to house our equipment."

"The bay will allow us to store those vehicles inside."

Other improvements include a 6,000-gallon fuel tank, which will hold 4,000 gallons of diesel and 2,000 of fuel for police and city vehicles, and a water holding tank in the event of an interruption of running water service. 

City Council's vote also allows the city manager, among other things, to submit the plans to FEMA.

Omar Rodríguez Ortiz is a community reporter for Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR, and on Facebook. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.