Avon Park leader considers consolidating police, fire

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Fire-fighting police officers? That's the plan City Manager Julian Deleon hopes to move forward with over the next decade. 
 
"We're not forcing it on current employees, only new hires as employees retire, leave or decide to move on," Deleon said. 
 
He envisions, in the future, a team of first responders able to respond to all calls while roving around town equipped as both police officers, and firefighters. 
 
Two-to-three fully trained firefighters would still operate out of the firehouse and drive the fire trucks, if needed, on fire-related calls. The rest of the responders would act in the dual police/fire role and meet the trucks when needed. 
 
"What are we really doing rolling the fire truck, a humongous beast, right in front of somebody's house when there's really no need for fire?" Deleon asked. 
 
But changing out a law enforcement utility belt for a fire suit isn't as easy as Deleon predicts, according to Fire Captain and Union President Warren West.
 
"It's a bad idea. It hasn't worked anywhere else, and the places it has worked, it's very expensive," he said. "It won't be any cost savings because if we have triple certified employees, you're going to have to pay them more; their pension costs will go up; our pension costs will go up because we won't have as many employees coming into the fire pension."
 
West is concerned about training. He said, in theory, it's doable to complete training as an EMT, firefighter and police officer, but it'd be tough to master all three.
 
"I think it's hard enough to get someone to be good at one job, let alone three," West said. 
 
He painted the following scenario: A medical call goes out as a drug overdose. When the proposed public safety officer arrives, are they to act first as an EMT or a police officer? After administering first aid and getting the subject to the hospital, are they then supposed to investigate the subject for drug possession? 
 
"There's just two different types of mindsets for firefighters and police officers," West said. 
 
The inspiration for Deleon's plan comes from the city of Daytona Beach Shores which uses the exact model. 
 
It's much smaller with about 4,200 people living in a beach community about one-tenth the size of Avon Park. 
 
With a larger tax base than years before, Deleon thinks consolidating police and fire will save money years from now. 
 
We've added 700 dwelling units, 1,000 residents; we've dropped our property taxes, and frankly I think we're making history in the direction we're moving by having duel certified officers," he said. 
 
Union leaders plan to fight the consolidation plan. 
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