By Angie Francalancia
The best place for Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Station No. 1 might be in Ocean Ridge.
Boynton Beach’s City Commission agreed during a workshop late last month to talk about the potential of moving Station No. 1 into Ocean Ridge’s Town Hall and garage.
Ocean Ridge, along with Briny Breezes, contracts for fire rescue service from Boynton Beach.
Earlier in the month, Ocean Ridge Mayor Ken Kaleel sent a letter to Boynton Beach Mayor Jose Rodriguez, saying Ocean Ridge wants to jointly study the proposal. It could provide a way for Boynton Beach to keep a station open near its highest call area downtown, as well as find additional space for its Police Department in the existing Station No. 1 at Boynton’s municipal complex off Boynton Beach Boulevard. And there’s a potential that Boynton Beach could garner more money if other coastal towns choose to contract with the city for fire service.
“We can move that station to the east and still serve that area with the highest concentration of calls,” Boynton Beach Interim Fire Chief Ray Carter said. “It may be 30 seconds longer in response time. Once we move over there, there’s other potential dollars by providing services say, to Manalapan.”
Manalapan has inquired about having Boynton Beach provide fire rescue service, Carter said. “Obviously, it’s something we’d have to look at.”
Manalapan now contracts with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue for service.
The coastal towns have been concerned about their fire and emergency service for several months since Boynton Beach began discussing closing the downtown station to help balance its budget. Although the station survived budget talks, Boynton did eliminate six fire rescue positions from the budget, forcing Carter to staff the station with only one two-person crew and eliminate ambulance service from Station No. 1
Although Station No. 1 handles a denser area with a higher concentration of calls, Boynton Beach’s other four stations have larger areas to cover, making it more logical to drop the staffing from Station No. 1, Carter said.
There’s no way Boynton Beach could completely eliminate the Station No. 1 crew, Carter said. Although Carter said he could serve the downtown area if Station No.1’s crew was housed either in Ocean Ridge or at Boynton’s Fire Station No. 4 located farther south, consolidating the crew at Station No. 4 would be detrimental to the north end of Ocean Ridge.
“There clearly will be a marked increase in response time to the north end of Ocean Ridge with a move to Station No. 4 — as much as one and a half minutes,” Carter said. “For the folks of Ocean Ridge, I don’t think that’s something that would be acceptable.”
Rodriguez, responding to Commissioner Steven Holzman’s suggestion to move the crew to Station No. 4, said, “Remember, we’re talking about a happy medium because we were talking about closing Station No. 1.”
Ocean Ridge Town Manager Ken Schenck, who attended the workshop, told the Boynton Beach Commission that Ocean Ridge’s garage space formerly housed the fire department before the town contracted with Boynton to provide service.
“We would have to make some modifications of some interior rooms, but we have a kitchen and showers for our police unit,” Schenck said.
Schenck said he didn’t know how much it would cost to modify space inside the Town Hall because he did not yet know what Boynton Beach Fire Rescue would require. He expected to meet with Carter to discuss the requirements within a couple of weeks.
“The mayor is willing to spend some money if we’ve got to make modifications,” Schenck said. “The biggest need, as far as I know now, is sleeping quarters.”
Schenck said the move would necessitate Ocean Ridge’s renegotiating its contract with Boynton Beach. Ocean Ridge now pays $871,000 for fire rescue service under a contract that runs through 2016. Additionally, Briny Breezes pays $282,000 for service.
“Obviously it’s going to have to be feasible to both sides,” Schenck said of a new contract.