What Does The Fire Board Candidates Have To Say
By Jean-Marc Bovee, Pharm.D
On September 29, the Community Council of Lehigh Acres hosted the candidate Forum Agenda. Among the speakers were those running for Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District Seats 1 through 5. In an article written in 2009, Mel Toadvine discussed the issue of whether or not the Lehigh Acres Fire Department’s ambulance service would be turned over to Lee County EMS to operate. The issue came up again Saturday vis-à-vis the candidate’s speeches.
Jacqueline Danis (Seat 5) came out aggressive stating that, “Chief Adams thinks that the ambulances should be given to the county. I don’t think that this is a good idea. If one life can be saved by keeping the ambulances in Lehigh, I would vote to keep them in Lehigh; people matter. We can find other ways to find money.” She went on to discuss the budget stating that the third top expenditure besides employee salaries and benefits are professional services, and added, “I don’t know what these are, but I’m going to find out.” Another top expenditure she mentioned was “miscellaneous services” for $75,000. “That’s a lot of miscellaneous,” Mrs. Danis quipped, adding, “I don’t think we should have a miscellaneous item on the budget.”
Ralph Hemmingway (Seat 5) started his speech off by stating his primary motivation for re-entering public service is, “Your pocketbook.” He mentioned that the new budget starts on October 1st and that, “There’s a lot in that budget that I don’t like.” He then went on to list several items of concern to him, the single largest expense being $826,000 for a new fire engine and ambulance to which he opined, “We don’t need it.” Mr. Hemmingway concluded by lamenting, “There will be a 5% increase in health insurance premiums because of Obamacare.”
David Adams (Seat 4) spoke softly along the same lines as his predecessors by saying, “The issue this year is gonna be the budget…80% goes to payroll and benefits.” He said there is “more money going out than coming in,” and that “the more money we save now, the less layoffs.” Mr. Adams expressed a rather reserved disdain for the union and the union leader in particular when he said he was “concerned if the union takes over, no changes are made, and we run out of money.” He remarked that the “union leader received $1.5 million dollars in concessions…and belittled the rattlesnake issue.”
Larry Becker (Seat 3) opened strong, and perhaps a tad defensive, by offering the crowd, several times, the budget from the last five years if anyone cared to examine it.
He then flatly stated, “Lehigh Acres will not ever lose the ambulance service.” However, in the next breath he added, “It may not be under Lehigh Acres fire district, it may be under the county, but we will not lose rescue service here…the county is obligated to take over.” Sources tell me, and sadly this was not specifically addressed Saturday, that allowing the county to take over will “certainly cause major response delays.”
William Liedtke (Seat 3) kept his remarks very brief expressing only his disdain for unions as well. Robert Hewitt (Seat 1) one-upped Mr. Liedtke in brevity by briefly mentioning his life long history in public service, and that he is a “fiscal conservative.” Cathy Kruse (Seat 1) a Lee County school teacher for 19 years, and a resident of Lehigh for 24 years, drastically reversed the trend by speaking her entire allotted time, and then some. She mentioned that her husband and son have both worked for the fire department, and that she benefits from a long history seeing things from the inside. She was not bashful in making it clear that she does not like how things have been run over the years, and that her outspokenness has caused her to be less than popular among some of the fire department personnel.
In a guest column from 9/13/2011, Ralph Hemmingway stated, “Our current response time for fire calls and medical calls is 6.96 minutes…Chief Don Adams wants to …turn the ambulance service over to county EMS. Our 6.9 minute response for medical calls will greatly increase under the county. This would then be above the national medical guidelines of seven minutes.”
Whoever wins these elections will have the unenviable task of balancing the age-old equation of needs versus costs. The bottom line is that if Lehigh Acres residents wish to keep local ambulance service, then a way to pay for it must be found. Perhaps, in their off time, some of the fire fighter staff and various personnel could get the boots out, and ask for donations from residents at some of the major intersections in Lehigh. Fundraisers, bake sales, or any assortment of methods for raising money may need to be looked into. Anything and everything must be considered if it means that much to people. There’s no reason we cannot come together as a community and resolve some of these budgetary issues.