VENICE, Fla. - City officials say the only fire station on the island may not be open when it's needed most. Fire Station One is nearly 40 years old and isn't up to code.
The city's fire chief says it's not practical or safe. First responders there say if they were in the building during a major natural event, it's likely they would need the help.
"Very tight quarters; the functionality with the actual living space, bathroom facilities, et cetera." Venice fire chief Jim Warman says the station is out of date for building codes and things like wind and water intrusion. "Everything has been updated here and there throughout the years, but is in older condition."
While the sign out front says it's a safe place, the chief says during a storm his crews are not. "We would have to evacuate this station to another one and operate from there. Removing personnel from the island definitely creates some response times for us."
That leaves distant coverage on the island potentially right before, during, and depending on the damage...after. "It does make me nervous because I want someone to be here to protect all of us."
30-year resident Clara Zaccardelli says the building should be made safe for us and them. Not all emergency events come with a warning. "I want them to be safe, too."
The chief says hardening would cost millions but still doesn't fix the space issue. An entire rebuild would cost millions more. This week city leaders even heard ideas about moving the station all together to the airport property to somehow save some money.
"We could make it work, but because it is on the southern portion of our district response area, it would really add to the response times for most of our calls except for those on the airport," says Warman.
Then there’s the search for funds, which these days doesn't come easy. "We are looking at grant opportunities. Right now there are no grant opportunities to rebuild a fire station."
Now there is some light at the end of the tunnel if the city wants to wait. A new station is on the list for the penny sales tax money. Close to $4 million could be coming this way, but it's not until the 2016-2017 time frame.
FEMA can provide funds only to harden the structure. They have actually turned down grants for little things there in the past because they don't see the value in the structure.