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BONITA SPRINGS — The relocation of three Lee County EMS stations in Bonita Springs to hotels to save up to $60,000 yearly won’t affect response times, Lee County officials said Wednesday.
Although Bonita Springs fire officials dispute that, Lee public safety officials say they’ve done the research.
“We’ve run data models from these new locations to show the response time won’t be longer and in some cases, they may be shorter,” Lee Public Safety Director Rob Farmer said.
Lee officials released the hotel names Wednesday after finalizing deals they say will save $50,000-$60,000 yearly compared with the refundable $200,000 annual rent Bonita Springs Fire and Rescue District wanted Lee EMS to pay as of Oct. 1, after not charging county EMS for more than 20 years.
--EMS 6, housed at the main firehouse, 27701 Bonita Grande Drive, will move 4.4 miles west, to the Hampton Inn, at 27900 Crown Lake Blvd.
--EMS 13, housed at Station No. 3, 25001 U.S. 41 S., will move 2½ miles south, to Homewood Suites, 8901 Highland Woods Blvd.
--EMS 37, housed at Station No. 2, 28055 Mango Drive, will move 1½ miles southeast, to La Quinta Inn and Suites, 28600 Trails Edge Blvd. Station No. 2, which is closed from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., responds to the Bonita Beach area, but EMS won’t close.
County records show the hotel rooms will be close to an exit, with ambulances parked 10-20 feet away. Horns and sirens are prohibited until ambulances are away from the hotels, which provided rules regarding use of horns and sirens.
Bonita Springs Fire Chief Joe Daigle contends the move may not hurt the county’s response time, but it could affect the city fire department. He said Bonita’s response-time model is four to six minutes; it’s 8.9 minutes for county EMS.
“Our firefighters may be required to stabilize a patient for a longer period of time while waiting for an ambulance — instead of being able to take that patient, lift them up and leave in an ambulance right away,” Daigle said, noting that the best response models have EMS stations spread out. “They’re all moving into such a tight location, closer together. It’s not a good model.”
Bonita Springs has been working more than three years to provide its own ambulance service, but county commissioners shot down their proposal this spring. The city sued, contesting the vote in Lee Circuit Court, and were negotiating as part of a state-required process involving governmental disputes.
After negotiations between Daigle and Farmer, who agreed the county would pay $16,666.67 monthly rent, further negotiations went on between Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais and city fire district officials.
County officials announced their intent to move Tuesday.
Daigle said Desjarlais refused to negotiate, but Holly Schwartz, the assistant county manager who oversees public safety, said county officials were following state guidelines.
The state law “requires us to negotiate in good faith — and that’s what we are doing,” Schwartz said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t still have some concerns regarding fragmentation and medical direction.”
Although Daigle is interested in negotiations and a counteroffer, Farmer said that wouldn’t happen. Both Farmer and Schwartz maintain the move and negotiations are separate issues, but city officials call them intertwined due to their past fight to operate their own ambulance service.
“We believe it’s the best for residents and the county, but Lee County has stonewalled us,” Fire Commissioner Ed FitzGerald said. “The fire commissioners started to realize we’re not making any progress and we’re just being stonewalled.”