Mold temporarily closes county fire station at Forest Park

Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 4:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 4:54 p.m.

The county fire station at Forest Park has temporarily closed because of mold found in the ceiling area.

Alachua County Fire Rescue Chief Ed Bailey said county facilities workers found the mold during an inspection and firefighters vacated the station on Monday. Bailey said they could be back in as soon as Friday. But it is also possible that they will not be able to move back in until next week.

Bailey said a fire engine and rescue unit are now moving around the station’s coverage area during the day.

“It’s not the best situation, but we’re going to protect the citizens and run our calls,” said Brett Sandlin, president of the county firefighters union. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

When the number of calls drops during overnight hours, the rescue or ambulance vehicle is based at the county station on Archer Road near Haile Plantation and the fire engine is at the county station on Fort Clarke Boulevard, Bailey said

The county’s temporarily closed Station No.19 at Forest Park, located at Southwest 43rd Street and Southwest 20th Avenue, has been an ongoing cause of money concerns for the city of Gainesville. A 2009 annexation placed the county station in the city limits of Gainesville. That made it the closest responding unit for calls at Butler Plaza and the apartments along Southwest 20th, areas that were also part of the annexation.

Since then, the city has typically paid the county hundreds of thousands of dollars annually under an agreement that has each local government compensating the other to respond to medical and fire calls in its jurisdiction. During the Oct. 3 City Commission meeting, City Fire Chief Gene Prince said the city was paying the county approximately $624,000 a year.

At that meeting, Prince proposed putting a city emergency medical services vehicle and crew in the area, possibly at a rented apartment, to respond to medical calls in the city and unincorporated county. He estimated that would result in the county paying the city about $568,000 annually, resulting in a roughly $1.2 million “swing.”

The City Commission decided to hold on implementing the plan until commissioners could discuss the future ownership and operation of the station, which the city wants to take over, with the County Commission at a yet-to-be scheduled joint meeting.

But after the county temporarily closed the Forest Park station, Prince put an engine and crew at a rented room at Homestead Suites on Southwest 42nd Street to respond to fire and medical calls in the city and county. He said that would continue until the county moves back into the Forest Park station.

Bailey is now questioning why that move was made when the City Commission instructed Prince to hold off until a meeting with the County Commission occurred.

Prince said this move is different than the plan he brought to the City Commission.

“This is not the same thing we were asking to do,” he said. “This is based on the closure of 19. This is temporary.”

Mayor Ed Braddy said he felt the move was made to ensure the area remained adequately covered while the county station was closed. Given the circumstances, he said he believed it did not violate the commission’s direction.

“There’s a need for public safety services out there,” Braddy said. “I feel the chief made a good decision. I’m supportive of us making sure that the people who live out there still have service available.”

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