Article published Nov 30, 2005 As the fire-operations chief for the Sarasota County Fire Department from 2002 until 2005 and a 27-year veteran of the SCFD, I can attest to the fact that the safety of the men and women of the department is at great additional risk due to inadequate staffing on fire trucks. Only two firefighters are assigned to each fire truck, a number that falls well below minimum staffing levels of comparable fire departments serving a population the size of Sarasota County’s, as illustrated both locally and nationally by the International City/County Managers Association. In 2001 I presented a plan to Fire Chief Brian Gorski to increase the staffing on two fire trucks per year, from two people to three people, with the third person being a firefighter/paramedic, making each fire truck capable of providing advanced medical life support in addition to firefighting. With the 20 fire trucks currently in service, this plan would have taken 10 years. This was a financially conservative plan to lessen the burden on taxpayers while addressing both the safety of our firefighters and the issue of increasing our abilities to protect and serve the citizens of Sarasota County. Chief Gorski accepted and supported this plan and work- ed hard to convey it to the county’s administration (Executive Director of Emergency Services David Harrawood, Deputy County Administrator David Bullock and County Administrator Jim Ley), only to hear the same message year after year: “Wait until next year.” In 2002, in an attempt to meet National Fire Protection Association Standard No. 1710, which regulates the number of firefighters required on a first-alarm assignment (15 to 17) to safely and effectively perform the search-and-rescue missions and extinguish a fire, I increased the existing alarm assignment of two engines, one ladder truck, one rescue truck, one squad truck and one battalion chief (12 people total) by sending additional engine and rescue trucks (four more personnel) to the alarm response. This was only a temporary solution, as it resulted in depleting resources in adjacent areas, which increased response times to other fire and medical emergencies. The county administration, year after year, refuses to address this serious matter of firefighter safety, as well as the need to add additional fire stations and personnel to areas that are growing rapidly so the department can keep pace with the growth. Existing fire and Emergency Medical Services tax assessments would more than cover increasing the staffing levels from two to three people on every fire truck now, let alone over 10 years. Over the past four years, the Fire Department has acquired in excess of $20 million in taxpayers’ money from the current assessments that have been placed in a reserve fund, this fund being the difference between what the county administrator will allow the fire chief to budget and what was collected in tax assessments. Fire Chief Gorski has dedicated his life to the Fire Department and is an outstanding fire-service leader. I know that he has worked hard toward these same issues, only to be met with resistance, year after year. It’s time that the Sarasota County commissioners put a stop to the micromanagement to which County Administrator Jim Ley and his staff (Bullock and Harrawood) are accustomed, and let the fire chief do his job in assuring that the firefighters are adequately protected and safe in performing what is already an extremely hazardous occupation: protecting the lives and property of the citizens of Sarasota County. I hope that a serious firefighter or citizen injury or death will not occur before safe staffing levels are achieved. Firefighters Union Local 2546 has my full support in its efforts to educate the citizens of Sarasota County on the need to increase staffing levels, which, in turn, will lead to increased firefighter and citizen safety. Actually, each citizen’s personal safety is at risk when only two firefighters respond. We should all demand that we staff each fire truck with three firefighters. Our lives may well depend on it! I hope that residents will show their support of their firefighters and paramedics by contacting their county commissioners and insisting on increasing firefighter staffing to safer levels. Terrence F. Kehoe is a retired fire operations chief with the Sarasota County Fire Department. He resides in Port Charlotte.