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Captiva fire district emphasizes importance of home access

July 25, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

When responding to an emergency, one of the common obstacles faced by the Captiva Island Fire Control District is the simple act of gaining access to a property or residence using its trucks.

Fire Chief Jeff Pawul explained that certain landscaping along a driveway or one's front gate can add time to the district's response to a call. If personnel cannot get through a narrow gate or reach a home in the engine, fire crews are forced to walk part or all of the way to a residence carrying their equipment.

"The nature of the island out here, it's kind of always been a challenge getting our apparatus down the driveway to the houses," he said, adding that the source can be either unintentional or intentional.

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Sometimes, the foliage leading up to a residence just needs to be trimmed back.

"Because it's so overgrown," Pawul said. "Keep your trees trimmed."

Other times, it may be a purposeful landscaping or design element, like palm trees lining the driveway. While it looks beautiful or may even offer privacy, it can prevent easy access during an emergency.

"They may plant these not taking into consideration that we've got to get a truck down there," he said.

Most recently, the district has observed issues within the Gold Coast area.

"We've noticed lately the majority of it's kind of been on the southern portion of the island," Pawul said. "A lot of the houses are way back on the property, whether on the bay side or beach side. A lot of those are long driveways, some of them curve or turn sharply."

"If we've got to walk that with all of our equipment, that's when the problem comes in," he said, adding that parking in the street is not as big of an issue when responding to residences with short driveways. "When it's an emergency, every second counts."

While luckily a false alarm, fire crews responded to one call the other day.

"We parked on the street and walked down there," Pawul said of how personnel gained access to the home. "Had it been (a real emergency) that would have been a huge delay just getting back there."

The district's engines are approximately 10.5 feet tall, 8.5 feet wide and 31 feet long.

"We've got to be able to open the door, get out of the truck and work off of it. Twelve feet is pretty much the absolute minimum in order to open doors and get out of the truck," he said of the clearance needed. "I always recommend closer to 14 feet."

He noted that the Sanibel fire district's trucks are a little bit taller and wider.

For owners unsure about the clearance on their property, the district can do a test run.

"We can bring one of our trucks down and drive our truck down the driveway," Pawul said of staff downtime. "We just did it the other day, so we have no problem doing that for homeowners."

Another potential problem area is motorized front gates. The district has historically kept a list of the gate codes provided to it by property owners, but it takes time to look up a code in an emergency.

If a Sanibel fire crew is closer and arrives first, add more time to that response clock.

"The properties change hands so frequently, it's been almost impossible to update and keep that," he said of the list. "It's also not very secure. It's a liability to just keep all that."

One easy solution: an EVAC system for the gate.

Pawul explained that EVACs, or emergency vehicle access control, can be installed by garage door and gate companies. Usually an option when buying a gate, the devices can be retrofitted to existing ones.

"It's basically a little transmitter that's installed with your motorized gate," he said, adding that it enables first-responders to gain access to the property without needing the code. "Any of these door companies or gate companies can add these to existing systems."

One more easily solvable problem is homes with unlit address numbers, or none at all.

"Make sure your address is lighted and visible from the street in both directions," Pawul said.

"A lot of people have the nice signs - they name their properties - but they may not have a number on it or it may be really small," he added. "We know how dark it is out here at night. It may make finding the right driveway in the middle of the night a little time consuming."

To schedule a truck test run with the district, contact 239-472-9494.



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