ABOVE: Mount Dora's new Fire Station 35 under construction on CR 19.
During a Mount Dora City Council work session last month, Mount Dora City Manager Patrick Comiskey presented his proposal to consolidate all Mount Dora firefighters and fire apparatus into one new, larger station on Limit Avenue. His proposed Limit Avenue station would replace the Donnelly Street station (Station 34) and the new station under construction on the City’s west side on 19A (Station 35). The station currently under construction was intended to replace an old and undersized station near the water treatment plant.
Comiskey’s proposal for the fire department was part of a larger plan to realign Public Works, Parks and Recreation Department, and Fire Department assets for cost savings. In his proposal, rather than Mount Dora Fire Department moving into the custom fire station, the Public Works Department would occupy it.
The City Manager stated his idea would result in the city not having to borrow additional funds and that service delivery would be enhanced. However, Mount Dora Firefighters Union 3088 believe the proposal would adversely affect public safety.
Mount Dora Buzz asked Casey Forney, a board member of that union for specifics in order to gain more insight about how the proposal could affect Mount Dora residents.
BUZZ: What are the ideal locations for MDFD stations to achieve adequate or superior response times for all areas within the city limits? FORNEY: In 2018, three ideal station locations were identified to reduce response times and more equally distribute service coverage to City residents. The City has moved forward with plans to build two of those, one at 3200 Hwy 19A (near Eudora Rd) and one at 301 Limit Avenue (near Donnelly St). These locations remain ideal to provide sufficient coverage to all residents. If the Limit Ave station is not built, the current fire station on Donnelly should still provide adequate coverage. The movement of the new station 35 inward toward the City center serves a twofold purpose: to decrease the number of calls run outside City limits, and to reduce response times to downtown. Regardless of location, keeping a second station open on the West side is the only way to ensure the residents maintain sufficient coverage. BUZZ: Currently, MDFD responds to many calls outside the city limits due to the old Station 35 location being at the edge of the city. Will the location of new Station 35 under construction on CR 19A reduce the amount of those calls? If so, how? FORNEY: Station 35's new location is just over one mile closer to the central hub of Mount Dora, while still providing sufficient coverage to the West side of the city as intended. Call volume is an incredibly dynamic animal, and it would be hard to predict just how much of a reduction, if any, there will be in calls for service outside the City. There is a good chance it will go down though, as the location moves it further away from some of the more frequented areas within Eustis, Tavares and Lake County jurisdictions. What we can say with confidence, however is it is a much more strategic location to provide service within Mount Dora's own community. Triangle Elementary, Walmart, Target, Avante, Spring Harbor and many other businesses and residences on the West side of Mount Dora will have our fire department practically at their doorstep. BUZZ: What is the national standard for response times? How do Mount Dora Fire Department response times compare? FORNEY: For fires, the National standard calls for the first arriving engine company to a fire is to have a 4-minute travel time to 90 percent of incidents. The second due engine should have a 6-minute travel time, per NFPA 1710. Last year in Mount Dora, the average first unit travel time for structure fires was 7 minutes and 20 seconds. For EMS calls, the national standard calls for a 5-minute travel time. Last year in Mount Dora, average travel times were 9:37 for moderate risk EMS calls and 6:30 for high risk calls, such as a cardiac arrest. Even with two stations, we exceed the national standards. BUZZ: According to City staff, the proposed Limit Avenue station would have all areas of the City within a 6-mile radius. How does that distance correlate to response time variables? FORNEY: While this is technically true, the radius provided does not correlate with actual travel times. A simple GPS query demonstrates how the 2.8 miles from Limit Avenue to Spring Harbor Blvd translates to a 9 minute travel time. While lights and sirens may reduce this travel time by an additional 1 to 3 minutes, it does not take into account things like traffic during peak hours. The distance from current Station 34 to the back of the Lakes of Mount Dora subdivision is only 5.5 road miles, however the travel time approaches 15 minutes. Mileage only tells part of the story. The bottom line is that longer response times equate to poorer outcomes. In a true emergency, every minute matters.
BUZZ: How would the consolidation into one station on Limit Avenue affect emergency response times for the residents of Mount Dora's west side, including those near Eudora Road, Sylvan Shores and Spring Harbor? FORNEY: Consolidation into one station on Limit Avenue would invariably increase emergency response times for residents on the West Side, and in particular those near Eudora road. GPS travel times are currently 2 to 4 minutes from both old and new Station 35 to common incident locations such as Spring Harbor Apartments, Hammock Oaks Apartments, Village Grove, Avante, and Triangle Elementary. Travel time to the same locations from Limit Avenue increases to 9 minutes. This is an increase of at least 5 to 7 minutes to common responses on the West side, and this does not take into account increased travel times during periods of heavy traffic. BUZZ: In terms of damage, what kind of difference could such extended response times mean to a house fire? FORNEY: A fire can double in size every minute and fill a whole house with dense, untenable smoke in as little as 3 to 5 minutes. Often in Mount Dora, we are able to respond quickly and contain fires to a single room or kitchen appliance. This reduces threats to life safety, damage to personal belongings, and allows businesses to reopen shortly after an incident. While many factors come into play here, an extra 5-7 minutes of burn time in an uncontrolled fire could easily mean losing a whole house instead of damage to a single room. For disabled or sleeping residents, it could mean succumbing to fatal smoke inhalation injuries prior to fire department arrival. BUZZ: How could the extended response time affect heart attack, stroke and trauma patients? FORNEY: Minutes matter in EMS, as well as Fire. In cardiac arrest, brain death occurs within 6 to 10 minutes. With delayed access to CPR and defibrillation, a patient’s chances of survival literally decrease by the minute. In heart attacks, irreversible damage occurs within 30 minutes of blockage, and deaths from severe heart attacks increase 10% for every hour treatment is delayed. 5 minutes can mean more extensive and permanent damage to cardiac muscle. The fundamental rule in stroke care is “Time is Brain.” According to the American Heart Association, 1.9 million neurons are lost every minute a stroke is untreated. In one hour, that equates to 3.6 years of accelerated aging. Delaying treatment by 5 to 7 minutes is the equivalent of aging 5 months faster than normal. In trauma patients, we speak of the “Golden Hour,” which means an injured trauma patient has 60 minutes to receive definitive care in a hospital, after which death and disability increase drastically. Adding 6 minutes to response times would reduce their treatment window by 10%. BUZZ: What was Mount Dora's Fire Assessment fee intended to fund? FORNEY: The fire assessment fee was intended to build three new fire stations in strategic locations throughout the city to reduce response times from 9 minutes to 4 minutes and improve the ISO insurance rating. The current proposal would build only one of those three stations. BUZZ: Has this proposal affected morale at MDFD? If so, how? FORNEY: The proposal to give the new fire station to Public Works and permanently close Station 35 has been yet another blow to morale. After the massive loss of 9 firefighters and a training chief in December 2021, our firefighters were looking forward to something more positive: a brand new station. The news that this custom $6 million dollar station might become a glorified warehouse quickly tore through the department. Within hours, firefighters were considering applying for jobs elsewhere and discussing the fear of more layoffs. This proposal reopened a wound that was finally starting to heal. It had a major impact on morale and raised serious concerns as to job security moving forward. BUZZ: Mount Dora has an automatic aid agreement with Eustis, Tavares and Lake County. How would Mount Dora's proposed consolidation of its stations affect Eustis Fire Department, Lake County Fire Rescue, and Tavares Fire Department? FORNEY: Currently, the “closest unit agreement” allows for all of the agencies within the county to respond to incidents depending on proximity to the call rather than jurisdiction, in order to provide the most efficient care to citizens. If Mount Dora were to consolidate into one station, it would cause an imbalance to the entire system. The stations are spread out currently in a way that evens out the call load and allows units to back each other up when multiple units are required for a fire or vehicle accident. Closing Station 35 would leave Eustis and Tavares vulnerable without a second due unit coming from the West side of Mount Dora. The ambulance that is housed at Station 35 would need to be relocated, disrupting the County’s distribution of services. Eustis Station 22 would become the closest unit to calls on Eudora road, with an 8 minute travel time. This would pull their units away from their downtown areas multiple times a day, causing issues with their deployment model. Tavares would likely end up running many Eustis and Lake County calls as a result. Lake County would have an imbalance of running frequent calls into Lakes of Mount Dora, while losing the coverage previously afforded them by the West side station. The move is unreasonably disruptive to our neighbors, while concentrating resources in a less efficient way in one area of town. BUZZ: If MDFD were to cease responding to medical calls, what would happen? FORNEY: The level of service would decrease substantially. Mount Dora Fire Department runs an average of 13 calls a day, 80-90% of which are medical. All of the firefighters are trained as paramedics and EMTs, offering the same quality of care as the ambulance arriving to transport. If Mount Dora stopped responding to medical calls, Lake County EMS would be the sole provider of medical care for the City. This would mean longer response times, as ambulances are often out of the city transporting to the hospital or running calls in other jurisdictions. It would also mean that only 2 providers are available to treat and stabilize patients, rather than 4 or 5. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 4 providers to effectively manage a cardiac arrest. Fewer personnel means fewer hands performing the same amount of work, resulting in further delays in treatment and transport. The logic seems to be that not running medical calls would leave units available for fire calls, in order to potentially save lives and property several times a year. Ironically, we would be knowingly discarding the chance to save actual lives every single day through medical care. We would be bypassing actual emergencies in order to save resources for potential emergencies. The logic does not add up. Discontinuing medical services would be extremely disruptive to the countywide system and would result in massive turnover within the department.