Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Lake Wales Fire Department Has Come Far

Our Lake Wales Fire Department has come a long way since it was established in 1916. Let’s review this critically important department and examine a relatively new service, the department’s paramedic program.
The Lake Wales Fire Department has 27 professional fire fighters. Every firefighter is also certified as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and six firefighters are certified as Paramedics – an advanced level of certification.

Twenty-four firefighters work in shifts – 24 hours on, 48 hours off, which is a fire service standard. There are 8 firefighters assigned to each shift. Three department members typically work a “normal” work schedule: The Fire Chief, the Fire Marshall, and the Fire Prevention Specialist.
Our Fire Department operates out of two stations. The main station (station 1) is located on Central Ave in front of City Hall at Sharp Street. This station opened in 2000 when the Fire Department moved from the previous headquarters in old City Hall, further east on Central, at Second Street. The Fire Department had been located at old City Hall since in opened in 1928.

In May 2005 the Fire Department opened Station 2 on Thompson Nursery Road, just west of US 27. As soon as funding is available, the City plans to construct a permanent fire station building for station 2 in the northern area of the City.
Our Fire Department answers over 2,700 calls per year. Of that number about 200 are fire calls. The remainder are medical calls, including vehicle accidents and other types of rescue calls. Vehicle accidents sometimes require the use of the department’s specialized equipment to extricate persons who are trapped in heavily damaged vehicles. All department personnel have received special training in this type of rescue as well as other rescue operations. The department’s average response time is between 4.5 to just over 5 minutes.
Paramedic Program
We live in a very large county. Lake Wales accounts for 14 square miles of the 2,010 square miles that make up Polk County. Our county is the fourth largest county in the state, and the ninth largest in population with over 561,000 residents.

Ambulance service is provided throughout the county by the county government. There are 29 ambulances with paramedics responding to over 75,000 events per year. The ambulances serving Lake Wales are not located in the city limits but are stationed east of town and west of town near the airport. For medical calls requiring an ambulance, our Lake Wales firefighters almost always arrive on the scene first.
Prior to March of last year, our Lake Wales firefighter/EMT’s provided basic life support at the scene of a medical emergency until the ambulance arrived. EMT’s are trained and licensed to provide basic life support, which includes patient assessments, taking vital signs, utilizing advanced airway devices to secure an airway, and operating an automatic external defibrillator to correct lethal heart arrhythmia during a cardiac arrest.

In March of 2008 our fire department started its advanced life support emergency service. Our department has 6 paramedics, with two assigned to each shift. Our paramedics are:

  • Paul Byrd

  • Lashon Johnson

  • Roy Wilkinson

  • Dean Copson

  • Brian Draper

  • Shad Smith

Paramedics are capable of providing a much higher level of medical care and can perform a more comprehensive patient evaluation. Paramedics can utilize more advanced airway devices by intubating patients in respiratory distress, starting IVs to administer drugs and fluids, and treat a wide array of problems such as patients with burns or severe trauma. Paramedics also treat diabetic patients, and monitor, detect, and treat cardiac arrhythmia in the event of a heart condition.

In addition to our Lake Wales Fire Department, several other fire departments such as Winter Haven, Lakeland, and Polk County have begun training their firefighter/emergency medical technicians as paramedics. This is a huge increase in the level of service provided at a fraction of the cost for additional ambulances and staff.

Paramedics are required to complete 16 weeks of EMT training prior to beginning the program. The training program includes one year of college, 470 hours on an ambulance, and 120 clinical hours in an emergency room, followed by a state exam. The tuition cost is $3,600 to attend the program.

As funding is available our department will be training additional paramedics. Congratulations to everyone involved in this progressive, life-saving program!

Note: Fire Chief Jerry Brown assisted with this article.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Topics to Explore...

This week we have three topics to explore: the upcoming events to recognize Memorial Day; an announcement by Comcast of channel changes that are scheduled for May 26; and the US 27 landscaping.

Memorial Day, 2009
It is a Lake Wales tradition to have a service to honor our veterans on the morning of Memorial Day at the Lake Wales Cemetery. In addition to that ceremony, we also have an event at the Veterans’ Memorial at Lake Ashton.

This year a third event is being added and it will mark the opening of the Veterans’ Memorial at City Hall. The large pink marble veterans’ monument that had been located in Lake Wailes Park has been moved. It is now the centerpiece of a new Veterans’ Memorial in front of City Hall. The new Veterans’ Memorial is under construction and is scheduled to be completed in time for an inaugural service this Memorial Day, on Monday, May 25.

The event will begin at 3 pm and is scheduled to feature the raising of flags at the Memorial. Our nation’s flag will be raised, as well as flags to honor the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, and those service personnel missing in action. These service branch flagpoles surround a flagpole and the re-located marble monument in the center. A reception is being scheduled following the ceremony in the lobby of City Hall.

The new memorial features a brick walkway, and bricks will be available for engraving for $35. The engraved bricks will recognize the military service of a loved one or friend and list the name, service branch, and years of service. Bricks can be ordered by calling City Hall at 678-4182 extension 225.

A reception is planned in the City Hall lobby following the ceremony, and bricks will be available for sale at that time as well.
Channel Changes on Comcast
Comcast has recently announced that there are going to be a number of changes in their channel line-up. These changes are scheduled to take place on May 26. One of the changes involves the channel used for “Local Origination”, the broadcast of our Lake Wales City Commission meetings and other city meetings. Currently those meetings are shown on channel 5, and they will move to channel 6. In addition, the “Local Government Access” that is currently on channel 33 will move to channel 5. Additional information is available at http://www.comcast.com/ or by calling Comcast at 941-342-3552.

Landscaping on US 27
An editorial in a recent edition of this newspaper brought attention to the landscaping that has been installed on US 27 at Central Avenue. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) improved that area as a part of the widening of US 27. The concept of improving that intersection above the typical FDOT standards was approved by City Commission over five years ago when the widening project was still in the design phase. FDOT then proceeded to hire contractors to do the project.

Prince Landscaping is contractor responsible to FDOT for the planting of the plant material at this intersection, and by contract they are responsible for the maintenance of the plants for one year. The one-year period ends on December 9, and at that time City staff will take over the maintenance responsibilities.

City staff has notified FDOT that basic maintenance is not being properly performed, and has even offered to provide re-use water for the contractor’s water truck to irrigate the landscaping. At present, the landscaping also has an irrigation system using City potable water.

City staff will continue to notify FDOT of the need for their contractor to properly maintain these plants until they are turned over to the City for maintenance.

While the landscaping for this section of the widening project was planned during the design phase for the project, landscaping on another section of US 27 is now under review. FDOT provided funding for the landscaping of the section from Mountain Lake Cut-off Road to Cypress Gardens/Waverly Road after that section of the US 27 widening project was completed. The City Commission hired local landscape architect Marshall Whidden to design Florida-friendly landscaping for this section, and the Commission approved his plan. Once approval is received, the City will move forward with that landscaping project.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Workshop Topics

The next City Commission workshop meeting is scheduled for this Thursday, May 14, at 6 pm at City Hall. The agenda includes topics of current interest as well as topics regarding the planning for the future. Let’s review two of these topics:
1919 School Building

At the last workshop the project Construction Manager presented an alternative proposal for the next phase of the work. The City Commission’s direction to this point has been to complete the first floor of the building cost-effectively in order to open and begin using the building as quickly as possible. This has meant stretching grant dollars, which are not as plentiful now as they were a few years ago. A number of items originally included in the design, such as extensive lighting for large dramatic performances and an orchestra pit, as well as expensive finishes such as metal ceilings, had been laid aside. The next phase of the work anticipated using less expensive materials, such as vinyl tile in the restrooms rather than ceramic tile. The alternative plan drawn up by the architect and presented by the Construction Manager proposed to finish a portion of the first floor with the original, more expensive finishing materials in order to attract major donors to the facility.

The Commission will discuss the direction of the next phase of the work at the workshop. The funding for the next phase includes a $350,000 grant from the state historic preservation agency and a $300,000 match from the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds.

Review of City Growth Policies and the City’s Capabilities to Serve Growth in the Future
City staff is preparing an update to the Capital Improvements Element of the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Every city and county in Florida must have a Comprehensive Plan as prescribed by the 1985 Growth Management Act. These plans include maps indicating the future land uses and zoning for all properties within the City, and a description of how the City will serve the needs of these areas.

In the last six years the City has made far-reaching changes to better prepare for growth. The first professionally prepared impact fee study was completed to ensure that new growth pays for itself as much as possible. The future land use map, the centerpiece of a comprehensive plan, and related growth regulations, were extensively overhauled in 2005 during a period in which the City Commission declared a “zoning in progress” period and stopped the approvals of new subdivisions until plan overhaul was completed. This re-write was long overdue, and was attempted twice in the past by hiring consultants. Those efforts were not adopted. The 2005 revision was prepared by City staff, principally City Planner Margaret Swanson and Assistant City Manager Judy Delmar, and adopted by the City Commission.

An example of the type of subdivision that is produced under the new planning regulations is Whispering Ridge. The first proposal from the developer was a plan with over 500 lots arranged in a grid (square blocks) system. The final plan, after many reviews and suggestions by the planning staff, has 349 lots, a bike/walking trail, and a “spine” road that has “neighborhood node streets” rather than driveways connecting to it. The neighborhoods feature a number of common areas in which the original pine trees were saved.

Those staff members also worked with the City’s Utilities Attorney Jerry Buhr in the preparation of the City’s first Concurrency Management Plan. The key provision of the 1985 Growth Management Act is to ensure “concurrency” – that fundamental public services such as capacity for transportation, water, sewer, garbage disposal, recreation/open space, drainage, and schools are available to serve new developments when the services are needed. The City’s concurrency management system now requires new development to pay a portion of their impact fees up front, in two steps, for the building of these new facilities to serve growth.

City Planner Margaret Swanson will review the staff’s updating of the Capital Facilities Element of the Comprehensive Plan, which projects the City’s ability to serve growth that is anticipated during the planning period.

The workshop will feature seven other topics of interest as well, and the agenda is listed on the City’s website at www.cityoflakewales.com and at city hall. Everyone is invited!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Topics to Explore: Recreation & Information

This week we have two topics to explore:

Youth Recreation: the Boys and Girls’ Club
The parents in our town have a long tradition of providing organized recreation opportunities for our youth. The Lake Wales Little League has been in existence for over 55 years. The Steelers youth football league has been in operation for over 20 years. More recently, with Junior Magic basketball, the Gators youth football program, and the Lake Wales Soccer Club we have a nice variety of parent-run, independent leagues. We are also very fortunate to have the YMCA and the Boys and Girls’ Club.

I suspect that the economic downturn is making it particularly difficult for all non-profit organizations to make ends meet, and I know this is the case with our Boys and Girls’ Club. The Lake Wales Boys and Girls’ Club has been in operation for eight years. The first few years the Club was located on the campus of Roosevelt Academy, and then it moved to its present home in the former and newly remodeled elementary school at the corner of Seminole Avenue and Fourth Street. Every school day the Club’s bus travels to seven schools and picks up our children and takes them to the Club. There is a study hall with tutoring, and then organized activities. This year, the Club operates the Kirkland gymnasium in an agreement with the City.

Our Boys and Girls’ Club serves over 80 of our children each school day, and operates a summer camp during the out-of-school summer months.

Our Club is a branch of the Boys and Girls’ Club located in Winter Haven, and that club has subsidized the Lake Wales Club every year that it has been in operation.

Again, I suspect that every non-profit organization can use our help now. But I am particularly concerned about the Boys and Girls Club.

Information About Our Town
We are fortunate to live in a time when there are so many sources of information about any subject of interest. This is certainly true when it comes to learning more about our town. Town topics are covered by two daily newspapers as well as our own twice weekly hometown newspaper. Perhaps the biggest change in recent times in the creation and continued building of the City’s website (http://www.cityoflakewales.com/).

Our town’s website contains a variety of data and information about our town. One of the most interesting items is the full agenda packet provided for each City Commission meeting. This information is typically published on the Friday before the regular City Commission meetings.

The regular Commission meetings are held on the first and third Tuesday of each month. The agenda packet for the second regular meeting of the month typically contains the interim financial statements for the fiscal period ending the month before the meeting. There is also an analysis of the City’s financial position, including comparisons to targets for each fund, a focus on utility billing, and the amount of cash.

In addition to the two regular meetings, the Commission is now having a workshop meeting every month on the Thursday in the week between the regular Commission meetings. The agenda for these workshops cover items that will be coming up on future regular meeting agendas, as well as any other items that Commissioners wish to add to the agenda.

The preparation of City Commission agenda packets is an important staff function. The information is prepared by a City staff member and contains a recommendation for Commission action, the background material on the item, a review of the fiscal impact, and optional actions that the Commission could take. Attachments are also included giving additional or source information.

If you are not familiar with the City’s website or how to access the internet, there are 12 public access computers at our fine City library, and one of our librarians will be happy to assist. All of this information is also available at City Hall.

In the “information age”, our town has taken advantage of this useful tool. Data and information about our town is readily available for anyone to review!