TAVARES, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Lake County commissioners say there aren't enough firefighters to provide adequate service to residents, and it's making the jobs of the firefighters they do have too dangerous. Add to that, the expected growth in population over the next few years, and they say that spells trouble.
Commission Chair Sean Parks says, "We cannot scrimp on this...people's lives are at stake." He says, right now, there have been a few instances where more adequate staffing could have prevented a bigger fire and in one instance, possibly saved a life. His big concern is the fact that Lake County is only growing in population, and over the next few years, more growth is expected.
"Our population is growing, we have over 320,000 people in Lake County now, we have no plan on how to meet that need."
According to Brian Gamble, the Vice President of the Professional Firefighters of Lake County, firefighters have already answered 500 more calls in this first quarter compared to 2015. That's about a 10 percent increase in demand for service.
Gamble said in statement sent to FOX 35, "We definitely have a need for more firefighters. Currently the majority of our stations are only operating with two firefighters on duty per day. This makes it a challenge to perform the tasks we need to do when arriving at life threatening events such as house fires, brush fires and medical emergencies."
But the fact that county residents already pay a $175 fire assessment fee and a millage for EMS services makes Parks sensitive to household budget constraints.
County commissioners decided at their meeting last month to apply for a grant: nearly $1.8 million to cover two years of salaries for 15 additional firefighters. Come 2019, the county would be on its own to find a way to cover those costs.
Parks says, "If we had to do anything, it would be a couple years down the road. Could be slight increase in the assessment, we don't know yet." He adds that it could be that the growth in population helps cover the costs in additional taxes and other ways.
The county will learn this fall if they will get the grant.