Marco Island’s fire district was created by the Florida legislature in 1965. Ten years later Ed Moulton became Marco Island’s first paid firefighter. Since its infancy the department has grown modestly, especially in relation to the island’s population growth. The administrative staff has been reduced to a trim five, as the city has concentrated on line personnel for all public safety. The workload is increasing substantially. In the first three months of 2010, there were 200 more calls than the first three months of 2009. Over the course of a year Marco Island can expect between 2,500 and 3,000 calls.
All Marco Island firefighters are either EMT or paramedic trained. In 2009, medical incidents were, by far, the highest in all response categories demonstrating the wisdom of the intensive training.
Through the years the fire department has responded to an extraordinary number of varied and significant events, in addition to the “normal” workload affecting residents and visitors. Here are just a few:
- Hurricanes Andrew, Charley and Wilma
- The No Name Storm
- O’Shea’s fire
- The 1998 wildfires
- Aircraft crashes
- Island Princess accident – 23 miles out
- Goodland Lodge fire
- Yacht Club fire
- San Marco Residences fire
- A boat crash with four fatalities
Residents may also remember thefirefighters washing down the transformers in the aftermath of Wilma so that electrical power could continue to be provided.
From time-to-time someone asks why the Big Red Truck shows up on medical calls, and why the medical truck shows up on fire calls. In the first place, the truck contains medical equipment. When a 911 call comes in… oops, here I have to digress to relay a true Marco Island story, I am not making this up… about a year or so ago a visitor called to ask for “the emergency number for 911”! “Ma’am, it’s 911”…
What happens when a 911 call is made? The receiving operator (through a series of short questions), determines what the emergency might be. Using a sophisticated computer system, a decision is made on which personnel and equipment are sent. EMS vehicles have two onboard; fire trucks normally have three. All of them are trained to deal with fire and/or medical emergencies. There’s no time to waste. Heart damage, brain damage, bleeding and other effects can be prevented or minimized only through prompt and professional action. A medical emergency can be the initial reason for the 911 call, or the medical emergency can be precipitated by a fire or other event. In some cases patients have to be borne down stairs on a stretcher or backboard; in high rises or smashed automobiles, or second stories of homes or condos, having adequate personnel on hand saves lives by getting victims out quickly and properly.
Collier County established a standard of four people responding to these calls. In some cases a police officer will be dispatched as well if there is an injury without a known cause.
What’s the cost of dispatching the Big Red Truck in response to a call? It’s very small. Essentially it is the cost of diesel fuel to travel a few miles. Maintenance and depreciation costs are already factored in, and personnel are already on duty. Chief Mike Murphy emphasizes that it’s far preferable to have our professionals available in the area so they can take care of any problems, rather than waiting at the station house.
Yes, my bias is showing. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Board of the Fire-Rescue Foundation).