On Nov. 6, 2009, 48-year-old Bill Dunn choked to death in the county pocket. It took Palm Beach County Fire Rescue nearly 13 minutes to respond to the 911 call.
It’s unknown if a faster response might have provided a different outcome in Dunn’s case, but everyone on the barrier island agrees that the medical response time that evening was much too long. Since then, a mutual aid agreement between Boynton Beach and Palm Beach County fire-rescue agencies has been firmed up to provide better response times to the island.
Still, each year at budget time, the desire for a fire-rescue station on the barrier island is discussed in every small town along the coast. One look at any town’s budget shows the increasing costs of fire-rescue service contracts with the larger area agencies.
Growing pension debt, real estate and equipment costs, merging of departments and the rapidly increasing population just across our bridges soon will make these small-town service contracts unsustainable. There will be no quick and cheap solution to this problem.
It’s time to think (and act) outside the box.
At The Coastal Star we applaud the initiative led by Gulf Stream officials to explore the feasibility of a barrier island fire-rescue district and are heartened to see a spirit of cooperation among our coastal communities.
Each of the six towns participating in this study brings something different to the table: Briny Breezes and South Palm Beach bring a lower tax-base and an older population, Highland Beach and Manalapan bring already existing facilities, Gulf Stream and Ocean Ridge bring a critical need and political capital.
We can’t afford the comfortable blinders of isolationism when it comes to public safety. We can’t afford to slam the door when initial costs look uncomfortably high.
There will be many times when we’ll need to collectively take a step back and continue hunting down new avenues for mutual agreement. It is going to take open discussions and smart leadership to take the first step and then keep moving forward.
This proposal could be just the beginning of a string of great ideas that could enhance our quality of life on the barrier island. Let’s give it the serious discussion it deserves.
— Mary Kate
Leming, Executive Editor