By Sallie James
Hands off the Tamarac Fire Department.
That was the message on Wednesday from angry residents who berated city commissioners for directing the city manager to investigate the cost of handing city fire services over to the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
“Why?” was the big question they all wanted answered.
Vice Mayor Marlon Bolton identified the switch as a top priority during a recent Strategic Planning Session and asked the city manager Levent Sucuoglu to send a letter of intent to BSO as soon as possible. Newly-elected commissioners Kicia Daniel and Morey Wright supported the proposal. However, Wright stated the possible switch is about saving money, not politics.
The proposal infuriated many residents, who loudly voiced their opposition during the meeting’s public comments. So many people signed up to speak that the commission had to extend the customarily allotted 30-minute slot for public comments.
Tamarac’s top-rated fire department is beloved by the community and has distinguished itself as among the best in the nation. In 2022, Tamarac rescue workers placed first in Orlando’s Bill Shearer International ALS/BLS Competition, competing with rescue teams nationwide.
Also, last year, the Fire Inspectors Association of Broward County named three Tamarac Firefighters as Marshal of the Year, Fire Inspector of the Year, and Firefighter of the Year.
“You don’t try to fix something that’s not broken,” scolded Eric Sleeper, a six-year resident of Kings Point. “And one thing I’ve not heard … is that the system here for fire rescue is broken.”
Sleeper wondered why the city would even consider switching to the county, noting the widely reported problems with the county’s 911 emergency system, including unanswered emergency calls, poor response times, and a critical lack of staffing.
“Just what price do you put on our lives?” Sleeper asked commissioners.
Resident Darcy Schiller, also of Kings Point, said (vice mayor) Bolton should recuse himself from the issue because he has been trying to land a full-time job as an aide to County Commissioner Hazelle Rogers, who represents Broward County District 9 south of Tamarac’s city limits.
Bolton was hired in January by Rogers, earning an $80,000 salary in addition to his $53,000 Tamarac commission pay, but had to resign because the job had not been publicly advertised. It is unclear if he has reapplied for the position.
“Bolton suggested … that we put the Fire Department under BSO management. I have to wonder if that is due to his allegiance to Hazelle Rogers,” Schiller said. “Whether or not he gets rehired as her personal liaison, that is a conflict of interest. To give our city fire department to the county is grossly inappropriate because he is our vice mayor. If it comes to a vote, he should not be allowed to vote.”
Woodmont resident Carol Mendelson advised commissioners to ask themselves three questions before taking any action: Is this right for the residents I represent? Is it economically sound, and am I listening to residents who honored and privileged me with a voice to speak on their behalf?
“Listening to us should be a priority when you make a decision,” Mendelson said. “Let me remind you, with the salaries you receive, you work for us, not the other way around.”
She added, “While we are pleased with Tamarac BSO, constituents want Tamarac Fire Rescue to remain in Tamarac as it currently is. Listening is a critical skill. Use it wisely as it allows you the privilege to sit on the dais.”
Said resident Patti Lynn: “I worked for BSO fire rescue. I was a life safety educator. They are a nice organization. Our fire department is better. Leave them the hell alone.”
The city’s fire department budget for 2022/2023 is an estimated $28 million. Tamarac’s fire department has 118 employees, Fire Chief Mike Annese said.
Tamarac has four fire stations serving the city’s approximately 71,500 residents in a 12-square-mile stretch.
Sucuoglu said the process of obtaining a cost comparison from BSO Fire is expected to take four to six months.
- Sallie James is a veteran reporter/blogger/copywriter who spent most of her writing career in South Florida, including 22 years at the Sun Sentinel. She has also freelanced for The Coastal Star, South Florida Gay News & Florida Weekly. Sallie is the mother of grown boy/girl twins, a Guardian ad Litem, an animal rescuer, and a longtime Tamarac resident. She earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Indiana University.
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