Delray Beach’s fire rescue department has been responding to calls in outdated vehicles and sub par equipment, but not for much longer.
After years of borrowing fire trucks from neighboring municipalities for calls and using extrication equipment “so outdated that it’s not capable of cutting materials and alloy metals,” said Chief Neil De Jesus, the department was approved for new fire trucks, rescue vehicles and extrication equipment Tuesday evening.
City leaders approved the purchase of two amulances — one will respond to the town of Highland Beach, which will cover the cost. They will also get two new rescue trucks and six new extrication units.
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The total price tag is nearly $4 million and will take more than a year to get the new equipment, city officials said.
How urgent was it to get the new vehicles?
“It’s like delivering pizza in a cement truck,” De Jesus said of the current vehicles.
Following De Jesus’ hiring in May, the department advocated for financial and personnel restructuring, including a request for eight more firefighters/paramedics each year for the next three years.
An overwhelming call volume to the department, mainly because of a rise in drug overdoses in the city, has stretched personnel and service vehicles thin, De Jesus said.
On a typical call, the fire department sends two vehicles, a rescue engine and ambulance, some of which are “barely serviceable,” De Jesus said. Staffing allows only two personnel on an engine and three on an ambulance.
The new hires will allow the department to send fewer vehicles, keeping them in better condition and available for when multiple calls come in at once.
The new budget, however, has been a topic of contention among the five-member commission, who nearly struck an impasse at Tuesday’s meeting.
Commissioner Shelly Petrolia suggested city staff could find a way to reduce spending, and keep property low for residents.
“We can do better, and I just think we should,” Petrolia said, before voting against tentatively approving the new budget alongside Commissioner Mitch Katz. Commissioner Al Jacquet and Mayor Cary Glickstein voted for it, while Commissioner Jordana Jarjura was absent Tuesday.
The budget proposes an increase in funding for public safety, a large portion of the city budget. The police department is also seeking four more sworn officers.
It’s difficult to cut spending, lower taxes and fund the public safety sector as requested, City Manager Donald Cooper said.
“I’d like to be able to do everything for everybody, but I can’t,” he told the commission Tuesday.
Ultimately, the commission agreed to move the budget along until a future meeting when all commissioners will be present.