PASCO COUNTY, Fla — The old adage, “every second counts” is being tested in Pasco County. As the population continues to soar, response times for emergency calls have gotten longer and longer.
“You’re going to a child that is not breathing, no longer has a pulse in and you’re looking at the GPS and it says you’re 18 to 20 minutes away,” said Dixon Phillips, an IAFF Local 4420 District 3 Representative. “We pull up on scene and the first question the parents or the husband or wife say to us is what took so long?”
A report prepared by the Pasco County Fire Chief, provided to ABC Action News by Union 4420, showed that from 2020-2021 the agency has seen a 16% increase in call volume. Last year, it took rescue units more than 10 minutes to respond to around 51% of those calls.
“There’s been several calls, cardiac arrests which are our most critical calls where there are no units to send,” he said. “It’s a really scary time to be in Pasco County right now.”
Phillips noted the area between Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills is one of the worst.
“If a call comes out in one of those neighborhoods, it takes 16 minutes to get there, 18 minutes to get there on a light traffic day,” he said.
Sometimes units aren’t available at all — that’s called a Signal 40. According to that report, so far 2022 has averaged 20 minutes a day where no ambulances can respond.
“Not only is it detrimental to our community, that patient, but it’s detrimental to our crews,” he said.
In 2018, voters approved a GO Bond which allocated millions of dollars for nine fire stations. Some are rebuilds and others are brand new. That money became available in mid to late 2019, according to the County. By January of this year, four of the nine were to be completed according to a schedule from 2018.
“Here we are, four years later, none of those stations are in service,” said Phillips.
Phillips and others at the local 4420 have pleaded with county commissioners during public meetings recently.
We reached out to Pasco County and a spokesperson sent a statement that said in part, “The COVID-19 pandemic and construction supply chain issues have delayed that process; however, we are almost finished with the first new fire station – and will be securing bids for the second new station soon.”
“Over the past five years, the board has increased the rescued piece of the budget almost 120% which dwarfs any other increase in the county,” said Dan Biles, Pasco County Administrator.
Phillips thinks regardless of price and supply chain issues, the county should have made it a priority to get the stations built on time. He fears the county has fallen even more behind now.
“We need these stations, we need our trucks, we need everything to be in service yesterday,” he said.