By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
EDGEWATER -- This city's Fire Department was key in reviving a turn-of-the-century closest emergency response dispatch system in east Volusia County that had been dwindling in participation over the last several years.
"The original agreement between seven cities was formed in the early 2000s," Fire Chief Stephen Cousins said. "Over the next few years, two more cities signed on, but after 2009, participation dropped off until only 5 cities renewed the agreement."
In its April 1 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved authorization for City Manager Tracey Barlow to execute the fifth amendment to the interlocal agreement, providing for the establishment of the East Volusia Local Government Fire-Rescue and Emergency Medical Services and Auto-Aid and Closest Unit Response System.
According to Chief Cousins, the agreement allows for a quicker response time by fire and rescue services through a consolidated dispatch system. When a call comes in, the closest units are automatically dispatched rather than the old jurisdictional system where units were not dispatched from another city without approval even if they were physically closer to the incident.
In addition to the closest response system, the agreement also allows for loaning equipment between cities, such as if one city had more than one fire truck down for maintenance, they could request to borrow a backup truck from one of the other cities.
There also is a reimbursement mechanism in the agreement that allows one city to ask for compensation from another city. Should one city respond more in another city proportionally than they are receiving, they can ask for either a monetary compensation or a swap of services or equipment. Those services can include sending instructors to help train fire fighters up to lending of trucks and other equipment.
"I don't think I have ever seen any city ask another for money," Chief Cousins said. "They always work out a trade for something."
Last year only five cities renewed the agreement -- Edgewater, New Smyrna Beach, Port Orange, Ponce Inlet and South Daytona. This left gaps in the closest response unit service and those five cities decided to make a push to get all nine cities back on the agreement for this year.
"We have already talked to all of them and there wasn't any real reason they dropped off the agreement," Chief Cousins said. He thought they were likely distracted in 2009 by pressing economic issues and just missed the deadlines to renew. "They have all verbally agreed to come back and now it is only a matter of getting the paperwork in order."
By the end of May, the chief is confident all nine cities will have signed the documents. The other cities expected to sign the agreement are Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach Shores, Holly Hill and Ormond Beach. The city of Oak Hill does not have its own fire department and is served by the county.
City officials questioned City Manager Barlow about the danger of having fire trucks dispatched all the time, so there would not be any available to answer a call within the city. He assured them, "They would have to deplete all current responders within Southeast Volusia Region, before they could send our services that way."
He also stated Volusia County was struggling with some portions of the reimbursement portion of the agreement. He stated it was the same agreement as before and benefits the city. "We share emergency resources for structure fires and that helps us out," City Manager Barlow said.
Chief Cousins stated the agreement also is better for the public because it allows for a quicker response time, particularly to those places that fall on city lines or between cities.
In other business, the council discussed its operating budget for the coming fiscal year. With only $115,905 available as operating money in the general fund from its $2.4 million total budget, the city will have the lowest amount in several years to work with.
The budget breakdown was presented by James Halleran, certified public accountant and consultant with James Moore & Co. "It is going to be a challenging year for you," he warned the council. The city budget is expected to be a prominent agenda item at the next few city council meetings.