Hillsborough County has elected to secure the services of nearby Pasco County to provide fire service to the New Tampa communities not located within the city limits of the City of Tampa, pending a vote this week.
“It was the mayor (Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn) who said if we didn’t like it, then go to Pasco,’’ says County Fire Chief Dennis Jones. “So, we went to Pasco.”
The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will vote Wednesday whether or not to approve a $275,000 annual contract between Hillsborough and Pasco counties for fire services for residents in Pebble Creek, Live Oak, Cross Creek and other communities located in unincorporated Hillsborough County, such as the Branchton Park area.
The county and the City of Tampa, which has provided fire service to the unincorporated portion of New Tampa with some combination of Fire Stations Nos. 20, 21 and 22 the past 20 years, are ending a long agreement, after the city said it was raising the cost of its service to unincorporated New Tampa from $218,000 to $1.4 million per year.
Pasco’s Board of County Commissioners (BCC) voted to approve the deal on Nov. 28.
“I’m 100 percent for it,’’ said Pasco BCC chair Mike Moore, who represents most of Wesley Chapel in District 2, prior to the vote. “It’s a wash for us. We’re not making a ton of money off it, but we’re being good neighbors.”
Under the new agreement, unincorporated areas of New Tampa will primarily be serviced by Pasco County Fire Rescue Station No. 26, located in the nearby Meadow Pointe I community of Wesley Chapel.
The station is roughly 1.6 miles from the entrance to Live Oak Preserve, 1.9 miles to the entrance to the Pebble Creek Golf Club, 2.5 miles to the intersection of Cross Creek Blvd. and Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., and about 5 miles from the Kinnan St. area.
“Most communities in the unincorporated area are closer to the Pasco county fire station,’’ Chief Jones explained to a crowd at a recent New Tampa town hall (see page 6). “(Station 26) has a fire engine, rescue car and paramedic service.”
The contract is with the county, Jones said, not with just the one fire station, so other stations would also be available if needed. For example, Pasco County has Fire Rescue Station 13 in Quail Hollow, which is 7.9 miles from Live Oak Preserve, Fire Rescue Station No. 16 in Zephyrhills, which is located roughly 10.7 miles from the easternmost part of the unincorporated area, and No. 23 in Lutz, which is about the same distance from the westernmost areas.
Also, Jones added, Pasco and the City of Tampa have a mutual aid agreement. If Pasco is not available for a call, it would call Tampa for mutual aid, meaning Tampa Fire Rescue No. 21 or No. 22 (both on Cross Creek Blvd.) would provide the service.
Chief Jones also promised residents at that town hall meeting that their service would not stop, nor would they be responsible for any additional assessments.
The prospect of being serviced by a fire rescue station further away than TFR Station Nos. 21 and 22 didn’t sit well with some unincorporated New Tampa residents.
“We’re going to wait for Pasco to respond from County Line Road?,’’ asked Pebble Creek resident Craig Lewis at the town hall. “For Pasco to come down Bruce B. Downs Blvd. in that traffic? You expect us to get fire service that far away when we have two engines within a mile of my house? That is absolutely ludicrous, and is not acceptable.”
Jones said other options for a local Hillsborough County unit staged from a modular building were explored, but all of them cost more than Pasco County’s services.
“We don’t have an option, so our option is the next closest and make a deal with (Pasco),’’ Jones said.
Lewis suggested that the baseball fields on Kinnan St. be moved to Branchton Park (on Morris Bridge Rd), and replaced with a fire station to service the unincorporated communities of New Tampa.
The nearest Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Station is the University Area Station No. 5 on E. 139th Ave.
Hillsborough County District 5 commissioner Ken Hagan said at the town hall that he was hopeful residents wouldn’t notice any changes in their emergency services.
“We’re doing everything to ensure seamless service,” Hagan said. “We won’t let anything happen that will reduce the level of service you get out here, you have my word on that.”