St. Johns County to hire 20 new firefighters and a new fire hall
St. Johns County is adding firefighters as authorities seek ways to meet growing population demands on fire rescue services.
The county’s budget, which went into effect Oct. 1, includes grants for 20 new firefighters, said Jesse Dunn, director of the county’s management and budget office. Firefighters are also certified as paramedics or paramedics. The county commission recently asked the county administration to devise a plan to meet the needs of St. Johns County firefighters as the population grows.
A grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover the cost of these positions for three years, Dunn said. The cost for the first year is approximately $ 1.28 million.
The county expects that by the time the grant runs out, increases in property tax revenues will cover the cost, Dunn said.
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The FEMA grant is called Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, which aims to help services “increase or maintain the number of trained and” front-line “firefighters available in the area. their communities ”and“ improve the capacity of local fire departments to comply with the staffing, response and operational standards set by the codes and standards of the National Fire Protection Association.
County firefighters are currently moving the workforce as major events arise, such as wrecks and fires.
“It’s a juggling game,” St. Johns County Fire Chief Jeff Prevatt recently told the county commission. “And we are doing it I will say my staff are doing it extremely well, but as the volume of calls continues and this growth continues, we will have to consider other options.”
Prevatt was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.
Growth in St. Johns County and Demand for Services
The population of St. Johns County increased 43% from 2010 to 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. The 2020 census counted 273,425 people in St. Johns County, an increase of 83,386 since the 2010 census.
The county hired Emergency Services Consulting International to assess the St. Johns County fire department and to make planning recommendations.
The lengthy report presents a research-based summary, which includes plenty of data from 2019, said James Angle, the company’s senior consultant. The pandemic delayed production of the report until January of this year, he said. Scheduling issues delayed presentation to the committee until the end of September.
Among other things, the summary says:
- The total response workload for the department has increased 23.03% in six years.
- 66.4% of all responses are requests for emergency medical services.
- EMS patient transports increased by 11.47% over six years, with 73.88% of all EMS responses resulting in one patient transport.
- The St. Johns County Fire Department is not meeting National Fire Protection Association performance guidelines for attendance, travel and response times.
With population and demand expected to continue to grow, the consultant recommended that St. Johns County firefighters focus on “having an engine business located within 1.5 miles of the service area.” Currently (at the time of reporting) the percentage of 1.5 – Mileage driven for engine manufacturers accounts for 17.7% of the county’s road network. “
The distance is based on a recommendation from the Bureau of Insurance Services. The organization rates fire departments in a community based on the location of fire stations, the quality of communication technology, and other factors. The organization is an independent body that collects information about fire protection in a community. Most insurers use this information to calculate premiums for residential, commercial and industrial properties.
Emergency Services Consulting International made other recommendations in its report, including the addition of 32 full-time employees.
Development in the county has boosted property tax revenue. But the consultant said any decline in construction or in the value of the property “could have a significant negative effect” on the revenues of the county fire departments.
The consultant therefore recommended that the county consider diversifying its revenue, including looking at non-ad valorem valuations and a public safety sales tax.
Commissioners have not made a decision on the new income, but asked for more information on how to help fire responders prepare for future growth.
“So our growth has been around 44%,” Commission President Jeremiah Blocker told Prevatt at a recent meeting. “This has added approximately 89,000 to 100,000 new residents to St. Johns County.… My concern is that I want to make sure that we give you all the resources you need to meet these needs.”
New fire station en route in St. Johns County
The budget includes money for more than new firefighters.
St. Johns County plans to build a fire station on additional land at the St. Johns Golf Club. The golf course is located in Cypress Lakes, a residential community off State Road 207 and west of Interstate 95.
The project is still in the design and architecture phase, so a rendering was not available on Tuesday. The budget provides about $ 7.5 million for the station, Dunn said.
At the time the county voted to continue with the project, authorities were considering making it a joint station with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. That’s still the plan, according to Peret Pass, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.