Do county budget considerations take precedence over safety?

fire rescue logoCOMMENTARY


On October 18th I went to see the movie Gone Girl. It was a good movie, successful at the box office, but I never saw the ending. About halfway through the movie a man sitting on the theater’s back row started making sounds of distress. The woman next to him stood up and asked for help, then called 9-1-1. A Vero Beach office officer arrived at the scene within a minute or two and it appeared from people around the man that he had stopped breathing. The officer moved him to the floor and began chest compressions. By now, everyone in the theater was standing and someone yelled for the lights to be turned on. After several minutes, the officer said the man was conscious. But then he stopped breathing again and the officer resumed chest compressions. Finally, the lights were turned on and a few minutes later, the movie was stopped. A manager came in and asked us to all leave the theater. The victim was still being worked on.

As I left the theater, an ambulance finally arrived. It seemed to me that it took a long time considering a fire station was less than a mile away.

So why tell about this incident? It turns out that the ambulance was delayed by a train, which is another story entirely. But it brought to light a situation that warrants concern by Indian River County residents. The county fire department has 11 ambulances to cover the entire county. Those ambulances make over 26,000 runs a year, an 11% increase over just two years ago. According to John O’Connor, president of the Indian River County Firefighters’ Association and a paramedic himself, “There are two times a week that no ambulance is available to make a call due to the volume. In other cases, an ambulance has to go up to 17 miles from a station far out of its zone. Any breakdown in the system, a vehicle needing repairs, personnel not available when needed, could have a major impact. In the next five years the system could be crippled. We need one or two ambulances right now.”

So why doesn’t the department have them? Like everything else, the fire department’s annual budget is determined by the County Commission and paid for by your taxes. The Commission has a responsibility to provide services to county taxpayers at the same time they also have a responsibility to keep taxes low. But at what point do those responsibilities conflict?

The county’s contract with firefighters is in negotiation and has been for many months. Any time negotiations occur in public or corporate life, those who control the purse strings must weigh needs versus wants in determining what is acceptable financially. In this case however, where Commissioners run for office and are elected based on a platform of keeping taxes low, does their responsibility for public safety override their commitment to low taxes?

The county has declared an impasse in its negotiations with firefighters. No doubt there are negotiable issues, but it seems the need for ambulances and a fast response time when lives are at stake trumps a pledge to keep taxes low.


  1. Thank you Milt for identifying a serious issue that does not get the attention warranted. What good does it do to keep taxes low if you lose a life unnecessarily? There should be no reason for the Firefighters to advocate for more ambulances on our behalf. Every citizen should be advocating for public safety to take precendence over less taxes.

  2. At least this keeps us focused on why so many trains running through town could end up making one or more of us a widow/widower or a real goner ourselves. The hospital is still east of the RR track. The nearest ambulance, well, there’s no way of knowing when and where another situation arises that can’t be handled due to shortage of available emergency vehicles or a roadblock of some kind. Something to think about.

  3. I do not care about on going negotiations get more ambulances and eliminate breaks in this Much NEEDED SERVICE.

  4. Indian River County is Florida’s sixth richest county and one of the top 100 richest counties in the U.S. The County cannot afford to purchase 2 additional ambulances? Really.

  5. Mary Holbrook, I bet our commissioners would notice if the tax payers set their salary.

    I don’t know of any other place where one can set their own salary.

  6. Being the wife of a recent retired Indian River County firefighter, I can tell you that it’s not the fault of all the County Comissioners. There is a manager in this group who has no regard for our first responders or for the lives of any of us who work and live here. It’s time to address Joe Baird! He decides, who gets to live and who gets to die! No need to pray, in this county, no praying will help you live. In this county, you will die if you are waiting for an ambulance. In this county, your right to survive a medical emergency is in the hands of Joe Baird. How does one man have the power to dictate who lives and who dies? This man has shamed the “first responders” because when a fire truck or ambulance takes too long to respond, no one calls Joe Baird to complain. Naturally, the ones responding are the one blamed. The blood of our first responders and our county citizens is on the hands of this person will the almighty power to decide who lives and who dies.

    To get change, change has to be wanted. To want change, we must rise together and stand up to this almighty death dictator and demand change.

    No one has the right to dictate, through tax payer dollars, who will live and who will die.

  7. The county commissioners have the power to rectify this terrible situation. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on lawsuits they should buy more ambulances and other emergency equipment.

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