Fla. to open new $8M Fire-EMS station

The station is being build on a 20-mile stretch of desolate highway, where accidents are common and response times are around 45 minutes

By Greg Stanley
Naples Daily News

NAPLES, Fla. — First responders were 24 miles away Thursday afternoon when a family lost control of a car on Alligator Alley, spun-out and rolled over. A pregnant woman and a young child were ejected from the car, and a man was hurt, but their injuries were not life-threatening, authorities said.

The accident happened in a 20-mile stretch of the desolate highway, due north of Everglades City, where the bulk of the road’s emergencies take place. The long stretch is particularly dangerous because it’s home to the highest emergency response times in Collier County, where rescue crews are up to 45 minutes away.

That’s set to change this fall when the state opens a new fire and emergency station in the center of the high-call area — at mile marker 63.

The new station, which will be staffed by Collier’s Ochopee fire district, will drastically improve emergency service for the thousands of commuters and visitors who use that highway every day, Fire Chief Alan McLaughlin said.

“On average, we’ll have a 70 to 80 percent reduction in response times,” McLauglin said. “That’s huge — that’s huge.”

The Florida Department of Transportation is on track to complete the $8.8 million project this fall, said Debbie Tower, FDOT spokeswoman.

FDOT and Collier commissioners approved an intergovernmental agreement Tuesday that provides state funding for county staff and equipment at the station for the next four years, clearing the way for county to hire 12 firefighters and paramedics to staff the station on three shifts.

The deal is “nothing but good news” after years of negotiating with FDOT officials to build the station, Commissioner Tim Nance said.

Ochopee firefighters cover the majority of the 77-mile state highway that skirts the northern Everglades, but their closest crews are housed 18 miles from the road in Everglades City. The district responds to an average of 230 calls a year on Alligator Alley, and about 170 of those calls are fall in the 20-mile stretch north of the city, McLaughlin said.

It’s an area where on top of car accidents, people who are seriously sick pull over when they can’t make it to the hospital, he said. It’s a place where pregnant women have stopped their cars to deliver their babies, where vehicles break down and — this has happened more than once — where people get kicked out of cars by other passengers and are left stranded on the side of the road, McLaughlin said

“When you serve the middle of nowhere you kind of have to be a master at everything,” McLaughlin said. “And we have a large transient population that doubles our static population. Our transient population just happens to be in middle of nowhere.”

Collier County EMS will staff a paramedic on each shift, said Dan Summers, director of the county’s Bureau of Emergency Services.

“This will make a world of difference,” Summers said.

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