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Medical Response Time Worries Ocean Ridge, Fla., Residents

OCEAN RIDGE, Fla. -- If someone is having a heart attack in Ocean Ridge, an ambulance has to cross over one of the two bridges that connect Boynton Beach and the small oceanfront town.

If the bridges are up, it could take almost 10 minutes for help to get there, according to Sandy Foster, a 12-year resident of Ocean Ridge.

If someone were drowning, having a heart attack or their house was on fire, five to seven minutes would make all the difference, said Foster, 62, who first spoke about the issue at Ocean Ridge s Town Commission meeting in May.

Fire and emergency medical service for Ocean Ridge is provided by Boynton Beach, and no fire trucks or ambulances are stationed on the island an issue that Foster and others identify as a problem.

I ve always been concerned about it, Ocean Ridge Commissioner Nancy L. Hogan said. There are a few things that government needs to do, and that is [provide for the] health, welfare and safety of their citizens. The demographics of our constituency is older and has different needs than, say, a very young neighborhood. And so response time is very, very important.

Ocean Ridge had its own fire service until October 2004, when the Town Commission voted to contract the service to Boynton Beach, Town Manager Ken Schenck said.

The requirements for staffing just became so expensive that we couldn t afford to have our own, he said.

The town has looked into getting its own ambulance service since, but it would cost about $500,000 a year or about 10 percent of the budget, Schenck said.

Right now, we don t have the money to do that, he said. We re struggling right now to balance the budget, so I m not sure where we would get the other half-million dollars a year to do it.

Last year, there were 127 calls to Boynton Beach Fire Rescue from Ocean Ridge, according to Steve Lewis, the agency s community relations specialist and public information officer. The average response time was three minutes and 22 seconds, about one minute less than the average response time to Boynton Beach.

When you look at the county standard [average response time] of eight minutes, that s pretty good, Lewis said.

One reason for the low response time could be the proximity of the fire station, at 100 E. Boynton Beach Blvd., to the Ocean Avenue bridge, he said.

Also, responders alert bridge tenders when there are emergencies, so that the bridges remain down until ambulances and fire trucks pass, he said.

Ocean Ridge has a police department with about 14 officers, but that s a different situation, Schenck said.

Police are out on the road 24/7, where the firemen are not busy 24/7, he said. Plus, the equipment for fire, with the fire engines and that type of stuff, is a lot more expensive than a police car. We can work with two or three policemen on duty at any given time, but with the requirements for the staffing for the fire department, it would probably be a lot more.

However, Hogan said she would continue exploring the issue because she thinks fire and ambulance are services really basic to what government ought to pay for.

This is an ongoing dialogue about service, and not even just Palm Beach County. But all the way up and down this coastline there are small municipalities who are struggling to provide fire and EMS services for their residents, she said.

Every second is imperative for life and safety.

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