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Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Looks at Fire-Rescue Cost

Oct. 2--Lauderdale-by-the-Sea commissioners want to explore cheaper deals for the beach side town's fire and emergency medical service.

They recently gave the Broward County Sheriff's Office a year's notice that the town would end its $3.25-million contract, which expires next October.

"We're paying too much for fire protection services, period," said Town Commissioner Jim Silverstone, who also is the volunteer fire chief.

The commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to consider service alternatives from nearby fire departments in Pompano Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Interested cities soon should be able to submit a bid to the town, said Town Manager Esther Colon.

Silverstone estimates the town could save about $1 million if it switched providers. Silverstone, Commissioners Jerome McIntee and Chuck Clark voted to end the contract. Mayor Oliver Parker and Vice Mayor John Yanni voted no.

The recent decision could give the town's former volunteer department an opportunity to return. In November, the commission voted 3-2 to oust the town's volunteer fire department.

The sheriff's office and the 60-member volunteer department used to respond to the town's fire calls together until the sheriff's office alleged volunteers arrived unprepared. Sheriff's office officials also had concerns about the volunteer leadership.

The sheriff's office recently signed a contract with the Pompano Beach Fire Rescue for backup fire service to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. The year-long contract is worth $24,400 and would end if the town switches service providers.

Elliot Cohen, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said the agency terminated its partnership with the volunteers to protect residents. He said they should consider the town's safety if the commission lets the volunteers return.

"I think it should worry anyone who lives there," Cohen said. "The reason why we fired the volunteers because their leadership was poorly trained and unsafe."

Restoring the volunteers, 25 of whom continue to meet at a storefront on Commercial Boulevard, would be popular among residents. Silverstone said. He said doing so also would help the commission find an inexpensive option for fire service.

The town pays the sheriff's office about $2 million for fire protection and $1 million for emergency medical services.

"If the residents of this town didn't want us, we'd be out of here," Silverstone said.

Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach officials plan to consider providing service to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

Pompano Beach Fire Rescue Chief Harry Small said it would be the third time he's made a presentation on fire-rescue service options to the town. He and other city representatives made pitches in the mid-1990s.

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Vice Mayor John Yanni, who's against using a new provider, said other cities should avoid a contract that could involve a possible partnership with the volunteers.

"Why would they want to get in this mess?" he said.

Melissa Hoyos can be reached at mahoyos@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4233.

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