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Fire board hears about CARES Act funds, vaccinations

By TIFFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Dec 23, 2020

The Sanibel Fire and Rescue District’s commission approved a handful of resolutions during its recent meeting, as well as heard updates on CARES Act funding and COVID-19 vaccination distribution.

On Dec. 9, the commissioners voted unanimously 3-0 to allow the purchase of an MSA gas detector and Galaxy automated calibration station and gas cylinders, along with other associated parts, at a cost of about $6,750. The equipment will be stored and utilized by Station 172 on Sanibel-Captiva Road.

Prior to the vote, Division Chief of Training Tim Barrett explained that the equipment picks up different kinds of gases, such as methane, to alert the crew to any dangerous ones at a scene.

“We only have one at Station No. 1 (Station 171) now,” he said.

Fire Chief William “Bill” Briscoe noted that the sales quote is at a 20 percent discount.

The commission also voted unanimously 3-0 for the district to enter into a contract with Barefoot Charley’s Painting for it to prep and paint areas at Station 171 on Palm Ridge Road for $3,550.

Prior to the vote, Briscoe explained that the contract is for facilities maintenance and upkeep and is budgeted under the capital outlay expenditures. He added that it will allow for touch up painting.

Also at the meeting, Briscoe explained that Lee County has about $3.5 million in CARES Act funds that is has opened up to the individual fire districts, with Sanibel’s allocation at about $51,226.

“We have some qualified expenses — not many,” he said.

“These have to be things we did not budget for,” Briscoe added, referring to COVID expenses.

Barrett reported that the funds could be used to install a washing sink in the bay of the fire station without one, as crews have to clean up after returning from a call. They could also be used to cover the costs of decontamination sprays for the facilities and vehicles, breathing equipment and air filters.

“PPE is the big one,” he said of gowns, goggles and such.

Briscoe added that the funding can cover overtime pay for staff who covered shifts when some personnel stayed home a few days to ensure that they did not have the virus, just a regular cold. It also can be used to cover salaries but requires a direct tie to COVID, which the district is looking at.

He suggested to the commissioners that if the district applies for and is approved for funds that the funding should be set aside unspent until it receives full confirmation that it can use the monies.

“That way we’ve never spent it, we’ve never used it. It’s just sitting there,” Briscoe said.

The commission voiced agreement with the plan.

Also during the meeting, Briscoe reported that the local fire chiefs association recently met and discussed the COVID vaccination distribution plan for fire agencies in Lee County and their staff. It seems agencies will be split up into regions, with dates for staff to go to the department of heath.

“We are not first in line, we’re down the line,” he said.

Briscoe noted that the vaccinations will be voluntary, not mandatory.

“We don’t even know which one we’re getting,” he said of the type. “They have no clue.”

Commissioner Richard McCurry asked if the agencies were approached about administering the vaccine themselves, as local public safety agencies in the past have offered flu shots and such.

Briscoe explained that there is so much government paperwork involved with administering it because it is considered a “rushed vaccine” that it would require new training and could present legal issues.

“There’s too many landmines for us to get involved,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Jerry Muench proposed the idea of donating the monies that would have been used for the district’s holiday party — which is canceled — to Friends Who Care.

“I just thought it would be a good idea,” he said.

McCurry questioned the legality of donating taxpayer money to a charity.

“But I would love to do that,” he added.

Cochrane also supported the idea.

“I’m OK, if we can do it,” he said.

Staff said it will contact the district’s attorney for an answer.

Approximately $2,800 to $3,000 was set aside for the party.

IN OTHER NEWS

– The commission unanimously approved Briscoe’s employee agreement, which goes into effect on Jan. 1. The four-year contract has an annual salary of $140,000 — the same as the previous chief.

– The following personnel were recognized for their years of service: Division Chief Tim Barrett for 22 years, Capt. Chris Jackson for 17 years, Engineer Toff Walter for five years and Engineer Arian Moore for four years. In addition, the commissioners were recognized as: Jerry Muench for 22 years, Bruce Cochrane for 14 years and Richard McCurry for two years.

– Briscoe noted that he recently received the signed copies of the district’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. The district can now file its paperwork with the state for an advanced life support non-transport services license.

– Barrett provided a training update, reporting that the crews are working on rapid hose deployment, cross-training with the Iona-McGregor Fire District, holding CPR and Stop the Bleed classes and more. He noted that the district’s new medical director started training with the crews, and they are excited.

“The medical stuff is really going great,” Barrett said.

“He’s such a good teacher,” Briscoe added of Dr. Benjamin Abo.

For special operations, the Sanibel team is set to work with the county’s helicopter team.

In addition, the crews helped to unload the Christmas trees for the Sanibel-Captiva Lions Club’s fundraiser, planned to take part in the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida’s Lights of Love on Dec. 16 and were scheduled to drive “Santa” up to The Sanibel School in a fire engine.

– Briscoe reported that the support truck is in for maintenance, a tuneup and some repairs, and that Engine 172 is undergoing regular maintenance, along with an A/C repair and other minor fixes.

The district’s vessel also went back to the shop.

“They’re trying really hard to push this through as quick as they can,” he said of the boat.

– The district responded to 109 calls in November, compared to 120 calls last year. The district has responded to a total of 1,371 calls this year, compared to 1,501 calls for the same time period in 2019.

– Division Chief of Prevention Larry Williams reported that over 900 fire inspections have been conducted and entered into the new system.