By Rich Pollack

Armed with a unanimous recommendation from a county advisory board, Highland Beach leaders this month will go before the County Commission seeking a much needed certification that helps clear the way for a new town fire department.
Last month Palm Beach County’s Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council reconsidered Highland Beach’s application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN) license. That certificate is required before the town can provide EMS services once its new fire department is operational in May 2024.
The council, which earlier postponed a vote on the application to get additional information, agreed to forward its recommendation to the County Commission after little discussion.
“This is a very big step in establishing a Highland Beach Fire Rescue Department,” Town Manager Marshall Labadie said. “We were able to work through the initial roadblock and have been able to secure the advisory council’s first new agency approval in more than 30 years.”
Still, the final decision on whether to grant Highland Beach the license will rest with county commissioners, who are scheduled to vote on the issue at their Sept. 13 meeting.
To support their efforts, town leaders hope town residents will come to the meeting. They plan to send a bus of about 50 supporters and will supply T-shirts with the fire department logo on them.
Labadie has spoken with several county commissioners and said they have indicated support for the town. Like Labadie, Mayor Doug Hillman says he is optimistic the town’s application for the certificate of need will be approved.
“It would be remarkable if the commissioners went against it but it’s never a done deal,” Hillman said. “It’s not over until the County Commission approves it.”
Having residents attend the County Commission meeting, Hillman said, will remind commissioners that a referendum in which voters agreed to let the town spend up to $10 million to start the new department passed with more than 90% approval.
“We want to be sure to show that our residents support the creation of a new fire department,” Hillman said.
Hillman and Labadie encouraged residents who want to ride the bus to the meeting to register online, with a link provided on the town’s website. The bus will leave at 8:30 a.m. with only 50 spots available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Town commissioners in April 2021 voted to split from Delray Beach Fire Rescue and start a new department — breaking a relationship that had lasted more than 30 years. Commissioners, citing a consultant study, said they believe the town can still provide quality fire service for less than the $5 million a year Delray charged.
Since then, sometimes contentious discussions have taken place in which Delray Beach Fire Chief Keith Tomey has expressed concerns about the ability of the new department to provide residents with the level of service they receive from his department.
In a memo to Delray Beach City Manager Terrence Moore the day after the EMS Advisory Council vote, Tomey reported Highland Beach had agreed to increase its staffing to eight paramedic firefighters on a shift and said that Delray would be required to provide EMS mutual aid to Highland Beach.
“Our COPCN license requires any COPCN holder to render aid to another COPCN holder in another jurisdiction as a requirement to have a COPCN license,” he wrote.
At the same time, he pointed out that Highland Beach’s two neighboring communities have declined to provide mutual aid for fire calls.
“The bigger issue for them is that Boca nor Delray will be providing the fire protection mutual aid,” he said.
Both Labadie and Hillman have said they have a verbal commitment from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue to provide mutual aid for fires, but no formal agreement has been reached.

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