Fire-rescue relief for outside disasters costs local departments

Mexico Beach, Florida after Hurricane Michael. Credit: Chris O'Mera AP
Mexico Beach, Florida after Hurricane Michael. Credit: Chris O’Mera AP

As we watched Hurricane Michael devastate our neighbors in the Panhandle, many of us wanted to help. That especially includes our Southwest Florida firefighters, but departments are already spread thin. It’s not cheap to send local fire-rescue departments to provide relief for natural disasters elsewhere.

Most recently, North Collier Fire and Rescue District sent crews up to the Panhandle to help with Hurricane Michael.

“Part of what we do and the core of who we are is to serve and protect and that doesn’t always happen within our boundaries,” said Firefighter Sal D’Angelo of NCFRD.

That’s when helping other becomes a balancing budget act. Fire departments don’t budget for natural disasters that happen outside their area. They get reimbursed by the state.

But sometimes that reimbursement can take a while, putting more pressure on an already tight fund.

“We’re here to help, and that’s what we do,” D’Angelo said. “It’s ingrained in our culture. It’s our philosophy. It’s everything we stand for.”

Here is the dilemma.

“Do we find ourselves in those situations where we’d like to send more resources?” D’Angelo said. “The answer is yes,  but we’ve even had to scale back on how much we send out.”

Their last deployment up to the Panhandle cost about $117,000 in overtime.

When fire departments are already battling budget concerns, a long reimbursement process is a double whammy.

But, why are fire departments facing nation-wide funding shortages?

“It is getting harder and harder because we are seeing more and more demands for service placed upon us,” D’Angelo said.

Without proper funding, services could be impacted.

“If they can’t get the funding they need, they’re not going to be able to do their job,” Steve Austin said.

NCFRD said there’s no real clear solution. It’s just a balancing act, deciding what services to cut, what to keep and work within the funds they have. The fire district said another big help is community emergency response teams. Those are volunteers who go through training to help in disasters.

“I want to feel safe and not at risk,” Briggs said. “So, I’m all for whatever we can do.”


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