Due to population and business growth outside The Villages, Sumter County will need four more fire stations, county fire chief Rob Hanson told commissioners Tuesday at a workshop meeting.
Hanson said the county also will need three additional fire engines plus two replacement engines as well as a ladder truck with a rescue bucket for multi-family residential developments. Higher volume water trucks and a heavy duty rescue unit also will be needed.
The county department provides fire and emergency medical services outside The Villages, which operates its own department.
Since Oct 1., the Villages Fire Department has provided emergency medical services with its own ambulances.
Awaiting delivery of a dozen ambulances, the county department currently operates as a hybrid system with American Medical Response (AMR), a private, national company that used to provide countywide ambulance service until last fall.
During a four-month period ending on Feb. 23, Hanson reported that 54 percent of county medical transports were handled by AMR while 46 percent were handled by county staff.
On 90 percent of 4,133 medical incidents, he said. the first medical responders arrived at the scene within 16.44 minutes for rural calls and within 13.08 minutes for suburban calls. Ambulances arrived within 26.4 minutes in rural areas and within 17.59 minutes in suburban areas. Of those calls, 2,782 people were transported.
“We’re not sending an engine, ambulance and chief to every single call,” Hanson said.
About 76 percent of the calls during those four months were medical while 3 percent were fire calls. Others were service or canceled calls
New fire stations will be needed within five years on north U.S. 301 in Wildwood and in Sumterville, the fire chief said. An existing fire station in Wildwood will be converted to provide only emergency medical services due to the high call volume and new stations also will be needed later at Center Hill, due to area residential growth, and west of Bushnell.
The county and Villages departments currently operate within their own boundaries, but provide mutual aid to each other if requested. County Administrator Bradley Arnold said the departments could change the system in the future to send the closest unit available.
A nurse navigator program. coordinated through the emergency dispatch center, provides non-emergency assistance such as scheduling doctor appointments or arranging transportation for some 911 callers who do not need ambulance transport.
The Villages Fire Department stopped using the nurse navigator program Oct. 1 when it took over ambulance services. Arnold said the county can provide the program if The Villages department wants it.
County ambulance services were transferred to the fire departments from AMR after complaints of slow response times by AMR during the pandemic