By Angie Francalancia
If a county pocket resident were choking today, Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue would call Boynton Beach to race to his aid, shaving several minutes off the response time from the county’s nearest station.
Since November 2009, when 48-year-old Bill Dunn choked on a bite of steak and died while Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue took nearly 13 minutes to arrive from its closest station — near Military Trail — residents in the pocket have pushed for faster response options.
Last month, Fire-Rescue created specific criteria of life-threatening calls that automatically trigger a call for mutual aid to the pocket from the nearer Boynton Beach Fire Department — a list that includes choking.
“We identified the more serious calls,” said Battalion Chief Todd Blake. “When a call comes in through dispatch and the crew gets that call, they know to call Boynton.”
The list of life-threatening calls that will trigger the crew calling the Boynton Beach Fire Department are cardiac arrest, shortness of breath, choking, strokes, drowning and fire, Blake said.
Additionally, Blake said, Fire-Rescue is working to program its computers to automatically send Boynton Beach.
The specific list is welcome news to Boynton Beach Fire Chief William Bingham.
“That’s what we had asked for,” Bingham said. “We’ve already got a mutual aid agreement. Let’s use it. We use it regularly. It’s been a good, cooperative agreement. “Why they chose not to use it for those [past] calls, you’ll have to ask them.”
Blake, who transferred in November to lead the eight-station battalion that comprises the Boynton and Delray areas, wasn’t there when Dunn’s death prompted neighbors’ outrage and rescue-system reviews. The change, he said, is procedural, which means it can go into effect immediately.
“There was a problem identified there with responses. This was just an agreement we put in place until we can work out [a formal] agreement between the county and the city,” he said.
County pocket resident and former Boynton Beach firefighter Mike Smollon said he was happy there’s a new plan in place but wondered why it took so long.
“I’m happy they finally got their stuff together. Boynton, which is 2 miles away, will be responding so that’s a good thing. This is something that should have been done for the past 20 years.”
Officials from the city and county Fire-Rescue have discussed more formal agreements such as automatic aid, in which Boynton automatically would respond to every call in the pocket area.
There’s even been talk of the pocket being annexed into Boynton and/or Gulf Stream on its south border.
County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who had organized meetings on the issue, said the list meets the short-term solution of making mutual aid responses more consistent.
Regardless of whether more permanent changes ever take place, Blake’s crews underwent training late last month so everyone at Station 41 and its backup stations would know the new procedure.
Three new crew members transferred in to Station 41 late last year as part of Fire-Rescue’s annual bid of shifts. However, a refresher on policies would have taken place even if there were no crew changes, Blake said. None of the changes came as a result of how Dunn’s case was handled, nor was anybody disciplined in connection with the call, Fire-Rescue spokesman Don Delucia said.
Training was expected to include a review of the call types that would trigger a request for aid from Boynton Beach. The request is made by the crews, not by dispatch, Blake said. Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue still would respond to the calls, he said.
“Boynton Beach will start treatment, and we’ll, follow up and transport,” he said. He also planned to review communications procedures “if they need to talk to people on the ground prior to arrival.”
“We’ll also get the maps printed up to familiarize everyone better with the area that falls under this plan,”