Many things have changed over the past 20 years in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown, but perhaps none more than The Villages Public Safety Department.
What started as a rural fire department in October 1999 has now become a full-fledged urban agency – much different than many others in the local area like Sumter County Fire & EMS, the Fruitland Park Fire Department, the Montverde Fire Department and the Groveland Fire Department, to name a few.
As many residents know, The Villages has experienced a tremendous amount of growth over the past 20 years – and it’s far from over. New homes are being built at a rapid pace south of State Road 44 – the newest sections of the community will extend as far south as Bushnell – and The Villages Public Safety Department will be responsible for providing fire protection and medical care to those thousands of residents.
If you’re wondering just how large The Villages really is, then consider this: It covers 90 square miles and is home to more than 134,000 residents. That makes it the largest single-site residential real estate development in the country and the top-selling master-planned community.
Providing fire protection and medical services for a community that has experienced such a rapid pace of growth has presented many challenges for The Villages Public Safety Department – and those have been met time and again over the years. The department started out one station at The Villages Annex, one fire chief and nine firefighter/paramedics. The crews handled 1,040 calls that first year, with the expectation that the call volume would increase dramatically each year.
Fast-forward to today and residents are being protected by an urban department boasting nine fire stations, a fire chief, a deputy fire chief, 123 firefighters and an administrative staff of 16. Forty firefighters and two battalion chiefs are on duty every day, with a goal of at least 70 percent of the on-duty firefighters being paramedics.
“We take our staffing levels quite seriously and we are quite proud to be in a growth mode,” Cain said. “We’ve been able to hire some truly outstanding firefighters and we see that trend continuing for years to come.”
In the last fiscal year, Villages firefighters responded to 29,220 calls for service – a 2,708 percent increase from the total number of calls handled that first year. Of those calls in 2019, 55 percent were medical incidents.
The Villages fire department also boasts something that is the envy of many departments across the country – an average response time of four minutes and 39 seconds. Because of that extremely fast response time, the department also boasts a cardiac survival rate of 40 percent.
“Those are patients who walked out of the hospital after suffering a cardiac event,” Cain said. “Cardiac save rates are calculated different ways by some departments. But for us it’s very simple – they survived and were able to return home and continuing enjoying their retirement years here in The Villages.”
Local residents also will be interested to know that the department provides first-response advanced life support services from all of its fire stations and apparatus. It also includes a heavy technical rescue team comprised of 43 firefighters who specialize in high-angle rope rescue and structural collapse rescue.
“Urban fire departments must provide an extremely high level of care,” Cain said. “And they must have specialized teams in place to handle a variety of emergencies that take place in growing communities and require specialized training and skills.”
The Villages Public Safety Department also provides ISO Fire Protection Class 2 services to residents and visitors in The Villages. The department is one of 112 fire departments out of 517 in the state and one of 1,597 countrywide classified as an ISO 2 fire department.
“Insurance companies use the ISO score to help set home insurance rates,” Cain said. “That is something we take quite seriously and we are always striving to do whatever it takes to lower that rating. Needless to say, a home that is less likely to be severely damaged or destroyed by a fire is cheaper to insure.”
Not surprisingly, as The Villages Public Safety Department continues to grow, so does the need to be aggressive in adding new staff members. In fact, the department plans to add nine firefighters per budget cycle over the next three years.
“We will be providing four firefighters per apparatus, which will increase our effective response force on structure fires and emergency calls,” Cain said.
The department also will continue to provide valuable programs for residents, including AED programs, family and friends CPR training and smoke detector checks.
“As has happened over the past 20 years, The Villages Public Safety Department will continue its growth and development synonymous with the community we serve,” Cain said. “Our residents deserve the highest level of fire and emergency medical care possible and we will always strive to be best of the best as we continue to grow alongside this amazing community.”