Beginning Friday morning, career firefighters will supplement the volunteers in the Ferry Pass area.
The issue arose after a pair of house fires on Good Friday stretched firefighting resources. This morning, Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson said that during a town hall meeting in the Ferry Pass neighborhood after the fires, it became clear that the volume of calls that volunteer station must handle is heavier than the current staffing levels can manage.
Robinson said that the number of calls the Ferry Pass station handles is equivalent to the number of calls handled by five other stations combined.
County Administrator Jack Brown said at this morning’s agenda review meeting that, in consultation with Escambia Fire Chief Pat Grace, he will put a professional crew on duty at the Ferry Pass station to help supplement the volunteers.
“There is a nursing home, a hospital, a high rise all in that area” as well as businesses and homes, Brown says.
“The main thing that’s going to be real important is that the career and volunteer firefighters continue to work together to make sure, as they work through these issues, that they’re respectful of each other,” Brown says.
“I can swing it in this year’s budget,” Brown says. “As we look at what we want to do next year, we need take a look at that.”
According to Grace, there is a total of 125 active certified volunteers in Escambia County. There are 89 full-time paid and 24 part-time paid firefighters.
County spokesman Bill Pearson said starting Friday, there will be four paid firefighters on duty at Ferry Pass around the clock. There will be three shifts (of four firefighters) assigned to Ferry Pass going forward.
Commissioner Wilson Robertson said he had been told that a station could not have a mix of professional and volunteer firefighters. Brown said that the county sought legal advice and determined that career and volunteer firefighters may jointly staff a station.
Robinson, who praised the work of the volunteers who have been working at the station, said Ferry Pass is “one of our busiest stations. They’re handling a lot of call. Those people they pay the same fire fee as everyone else, they deserve to make sure there are people taking care of them.”
“I have 10 properties within a half-mile of that immediate area,” Robertson noted.