By Sallie James
Despite having one of Florida’s top-rated municipal fire departments, three Tamarac commissioners have directed the city manager to explore handing Tamarac fire services over to the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO).
Vice Mayor Marlon Bolton identified the switch as a top priority during a recent Strategic Planning Session and asked City Manager Levent Sucuoglu to send a letter of intent to BSO as soon as possible, Commissioner Elvin Villalobos said. Newly-elected commissioners Kicia Daniel and Morey Wright supported the proposal.
Mayor Michelle Gomez and Villalobos are opposed to the initiative. Villalobos believes the proposed switch is an ugly case of revenge.
According to Villalobos, Tamarac firefighters, represented by the Metro Broward Professional Firefighters Local 3080, are being targeted because their union did not endorse Bolton when he ran in 2020, nor did they endorse Daniel and Wright in the 2022 election.
“Now all three of them are trying to convert Tamarac to BSO out of spite,” Villalobos said, referring to Bolton, Daniel, and Wright.
Not so fast, said Wright, who participated in a recent fire department “live burn” training to experience what firefighters feel in a real fire.
“It was about cost; that is what the discussion was about. It was not that I want to get rid of the fire department. We were putting ideas out there, and we want to find ways to save money,” Wright said. “I am not doing this out of spite. Politics are politics. I have no spite against anyone.”
Reached by phone on Friday, Bolton’s line unexpectedly disconnected after the caller identified herself as a reporter. He did not pick up despite an immediate redial and also did not return a voice message left with his aide.
Daniel did not return a phone message either.
A February Strategic Planning session handout stated that “an email needs to be initiated by the city manager to the BSO Fire Chief to request a proposal. Once completed, BSO will request information from the city regarding Fire/EMS services, i.e., overall budget, assets, pension costs, salaries, IAFF contract, etc.”
Sucuoglu said the process is expected to take four to six months.
“It’s not a short process. I don’t know at this point what BSO is going to ask for,” Sucuoglu said. “We are going to start the conversation.”
Gomez said she is solidly opposed to the measure.
“I’m definitely not in favor of it, and I am not in favor of investigating it, which will take time and money,” Gomez said.
Residents of Kings Point learned about the Tamarac proposal on Thursday when Gomez shared the information with about 80 residents who were attending a meeting of the Social Learning Education and Discussion (SLED) group, said SLED President Sharon Jacobs. Several were upset by the news, Jacobs said.
“We would not like that to happen because no one complains about the EMS. They come here very often, and I think they should be under Tamarac’s rule. BSO had gotten some negative publicity about not answering 911 calls quickly, so why would you want to change?”
Jacobs added, “I have not heard one complaint about them. We just had our elevator renovated, and they had to take people out on gurneys. We have had no problems and are very happy to have them here.”
Tamarac Fire Chief Michael Annese said the rumblings were “purely exploratory at this time” but clarified that his department did not initiate them.
“I think [the] Tamarac Fire Department is one of the best in Broward County, and I think the firefighters are doing a great job,” Annese said.
The city’s fire department budget for 2022/2023 is an estimated $28 million. Tamarac’s fire department has 118 employees, Annese said.
Tamarac has four fire stations serving the city’s approximately 71,500 residents in a 12-square-mile stretch.
Tamarac firefighters have distinguished themselves as among the best in the nation. In 2022, Tamarac rescue workers placed first in the Bill Shearer International ALS/BLS Competition in Orlando, competing with rescue teams nationwide. In addition, 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.
Commissioners recently in February voted to spend approximately $2.8 million to purchase two new fire trucks to properly equip the city’s fire stations. Station 36, at University Drive and Northwest 72nd Street, has operated for three years without a fire engine. The new fire equipment will be delivered in 2025.
Broward cities that contract with BSO for fire rescue services include Cooper City, Dania Beach, Deerfield Beach, Hallandale Beach, Lauderdale Lakes, Pembroke Park, and Weston. Port Everglades and the unincorporated areas of Broward County also use BSO fire services.
The City of Margate considered switching to BSO fire services in 2021 but scrapped the idea due to excessive costs.
- 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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