Firefighting in Escambia County is in shambles. You can spin it a dozen different ways. You can pit the paid firefighters union against the volunteers. You can single out certain individuals for criticism and ridicule. However, the fact remains the fire protection system in the unincorporated areas of Escambia County has severe problems.
Volunteer fire stations are understaffed, lack firefighters with the state-certifications to fight fires and have weak administrative systems – overpaying stipends, not maintaining accurate records of training and certificates. We have no idea how many homes, businesses, and maybe even lives have been lost because of these issues.
Are the volunteers bad people? I think not, but it is an antiquated system that can’t provide the level of fire protection that a city resident gets or any area with full-time paid firefighters get.
County residents have three options –
1) Accept if your house or business catches fire that it probably won’t be saved. Most counties around the country realize that fires in the unincorporated areas are more about containment than saving structures.
2) Agree to pay higher fire fees – which may eventually equal what City residents pay in property taxes. Then raise stipends, pay for better training and administration and probably pay for more full-time firefighters.
3) Incorporate into the City of Pensacola those areas better covered by Pensacola Fire Department – Ninth Ave – to Olive Road, Davis Highway to Nine Mile Road, Scenic Hwy, Car City, Warrington, Myrtle Grove. Let the county focus on the areas north of Nine Mile and West of Fairfield.
Since our article came out in April (Burning Down The House ), a citizen’s advisory committee and the Clerk of Courts audit have uncovered issues within the county fire protection system. The state fire marshal is also investigating and his report will probably not be much different. The system has to change.