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DUCK KEY - posted 5/23/2010



As of July 2010 the status of the the Conch Fire Station remains unchanged. The existing Conch Key Station will continue to provide fire and EMT protection to Duck Key.


By early 2006 the County had scheduled either renovation or construction of 4 fire stations: North Key Largo (completed 2007), Big Pine Key (completed 2009), Tavernier and Conch Key.



The Conch Key Fire Station project had been on hold pending negotiations of an Interlocal agreement with Marathon.

The May 8 Keynoter reported,

"The Monroe County Commission's hopes for a collaborative firehouse effort with the city of Marathon don't look promising.
On Nov. 18, the County Commission put a hold on Fire Chief Jim Callahan's recommendation to build a new Conch Key station for $2.7 million, saying it prefers a partnership with Marathon. But city officials and Callahan have discussed a joint effort several times to no avail.
Yet another meeting to look at the issue is planned for Wednesday, and Marathon City Manager Roger Hernstadt says he's unsure a partnership can work."

Before any agreement Duck Key residents need to know the specifics of any partnership and any benefit or deficit a collaborative fire station might bring. Will residents be safer in terms of medical care? Will fire protection be reduced? Will the millage rate decrease or remain the same? Will Duck Key be impacted by the County/Marathon partnership?

Monroe County has already funded the new Conch Key Station. Not proceeding with the Conch Key Station would save the County upwards of 2.7 million dollars. The money "saved" will of course be used elsewhere. Will it be deverted to one of the unfunded projects listed below?

County records indicate a number of unfunded fire station projects. Year 2009 documentation lists unfunded projects as

"1. Cudjoe relocation to Summerland Key construction. Current station facility is too small it is shared with the Sheriff at the Substation on Cudjoe Key. County property is available in Cudjoe, however a better location would be closer to Summerland.

2. Long Key, discussion of potential partnership with Fish & Wildlife Commission for facility site. Evaluation of land for feasibility of size/construction costs pending. FWC requests two upscale apartments to be constructed for FWC use as compensation for land donation.

3. Sugarloaf, new construction or renovation of existing facility. Volunteer Fire Association and community have voiced concerns regarding the current condition of the existing facility.

4. Joe London Fire Training Facility, need permanent classroom and restroom facilities. Land is available,but no capital for construction. County EOC, grant has been awarded to do design work and is ongoing. There is no firm site location
or funds to construct. County is applying for grants for construction.

5. County Fire Rescue Headquarters facility. The current building is outdated, within flood plane, and does not meet wind load requirements. No land or funds identified."



The Monroe County's Conch Key Station 17 currently provides service to Duck Key, Conch Key, Coral Key, and Long Key Bridge.

When this writer checked there were four fire personnel stationed at Conch Key during day time hours. In the evening there is a fifth person available on call. Down the road in Layton there are two additional County personnel.

Conch Key has two EMTs and Two Paramedics. Florida paramedics have five times the training of EMTs. 1100 - 1500 hours of training and experiences versus 200-250 hours for EMTs.

The Marathon Fire Station on Grassy Key currently has two personnel - one EMT and one paramedic.

Paramedics have the ability to break the skin, can give shots as well as use more advanced airway management devices to support breathing. Paramedics are trained in the use of 30-40 medications, depending on the state. Paramedics are allowed to give drugs to their patients orally and intravenously. They also interpret electrocardiograms, utilize monitors and other types of sophisticated equipment and are allowed to perform other important procedures. The procedures that EMT and paramedics are allowed to perform vary by state.

Emergency medical technicians may open airways, restore breathing, control bleeding, treat for shock, administer epinephrine, administer oxygen, assist in childbirth, treat heart attack victims using an automated external defibrillator, and perform other basic procedures.



County records show Unincorporated County and Municipal fire stations at

MM 5 - Station 8 - Stock Island - funded construction of a Stock Island Fire Station/EMS

MM 10 - Station 9 - Big Coppitt

MM 17 - Station 10 - Sugarloaf - unfunded new construction or renovation

MM 21 - Station 10 - Cudjoe - unfunded, relocation to Summerland Key

MM 25 - PROPOSED - Summerland Key - unfunded

MM 30.5 - Station 13 - Big Pine - completed 2009

MM 51.5 - Station 14 - City of Marathon - partnership discussions to replace Conch Key Station

MM 59 - Station 15 - City of Marathon - Grassy Key

MM 63 - Station 17 - Conch Key - Funded but on Hold

MM 68 - Station 18 - Layton - discussing partnership facility with FWC

MM 74 - Station 19 - Islamorada

MM 82 - Station 20 - Islamorada

MM 90 - Station 21 - Islamorada

MM 92 - Station 22 - Tavernier

MM 98.5 - Station 23 & 24 - Key Largo EMS & Fire District

MM 106 - Station 25 - Key Largo Fire District - completed in 2007


Representatives from the City of Marathon met with Duck Key residents to discuss Marathon's plan for building a fire station (estimated cost around $2,000,000) on Grassy Key to be located near the Jolly Roger Trailer Park (MM 92).

With the building of the Grassy Key Station, Marathon would be interested in some sort of Interlocal Agreement with the County for Marathon to provide Fire/EMT Service to Duck Key as well as property up to the Long Key Bridge. Marathon has had an Interlocal Agreement for providing Fire/EMS Service to the City of Key Colony for a number of years.

Monroe County officials also were present and provided information on planned improvements to the Conch Key Fire Station (cost upward of $2.7 million depending on height of equipment bays to provide protection from flooding. Currently fire equipment must bemoved to higher level during hurricanes

Discussion centered on duplication of service, questions about millage cost to residents, and levels of fire and EMT service.


A number of residents present expressed the view that the County investigate contracting out fire protection and EMT services to Marathon or do something jointly (Interlocal Agreement). Protection would be provided up to the Long Key Bridge.

Marathon officials present seemed to think services for Duck Key could be provided at less cost.

Residents expressed the view that they needed to know the specifics on

1. the interlocal agreement

2. the number of fire personnel service that would be provided and

3. millage cost to Duck Key residents



The City of Marathon must build a fire station on Grassy Key in order to establish a Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating. Currently Marathon provides 2 fire service personnel and fire equipment on Grassy Key at Jolly Roger property. The Marathon Council renewed a six-month lease on units at Jolly Roger Trailer Park on Grassy Key for fire service personnel and equipment

The ISO rating of a community has a direct effect on the insurance premiums that individuals pay on their homes and especially on commercial buildings.  The lower the I.S.O. rating - scale of 1(the best) to 10 (no protection at all) - the better the insurance rates generally are. A Fire Station is necessary on Grassy Key as the Marathon Airport Station is more than 5 miles away.

In addition to the distance a community is from a fire station, Insurance Services Office assesses the number of personnel on duty, training levels (paid or volunteer), the amount of water the fire department can get to a fire, and the amount and quality of equipment used. Age of the fire station, construction material, and loss history in a particular area also affect the base rate.


Recent Past Action by Marathon City Council and County Commissioners

December 2009 - The Marathon Town Council continued to its next meeting, Resolution 2009-168, which would authorize a negotiated sales contract for purchase of the David G. & Charlene G. Jackson property for construction of a Grassy Key wastewater treatment plant and fire station.

November 10, 2009 - The Marathon Council tabled Resolution 2009-168, Authorizing The Acting City Manager To Negotiate A Contract For The Sale And Purchase Of Real Property From David G. & Charlene G. Jackson To Be Used As The Location For The Area #7 Wastewater Treatment Plant And Grassy Key Fire Station

November - County Commission on Nov. 18 put a hold on county Fire Chief Jim Callahan's recommendation to build a new $2.7 million fire station on Conch Key.



Resident living in the Lower and Middle Keys of unincorporated Monroe County receive their Fire/EMS service through the Lower and Middle Keys Fire and Ambulance District. Residents of the Upper Keys receive service from the Key Largo Fire Rescue and Emergency Medical Services District.

In examining a tax bill for 2009 residents for Duck Key, one can see a Fire & Ambulance millage rate of 1.8709 per thousand of assessed value. The total millage for Duck Key is 9.9769; 1.8709 mills per thousand being the cost for Fire/EMS. A home with a taxable value of $500,000 on Duck Key will pay $4,988.45 in taxes total. Of that figure $935.45 pays for Fire/EMS.



Though a spokesperson for Marathon suggested the city was going to build its own Grassy Key Station regardless of whether Duck Key is included in fire coverage, it has been suggested that the location of the Grassy Key Fire Station near the extreme end of northern Marathon( MM 59) was deliberate and calculated to provide the same response time for Duck Key as that of Conch Key Fire Station. Acting Marathon City Manager Peter Rosasco was reported in Keynoter article to state that Marathon is only interested in providing services to its residents, and not looking to build a station to provide service to Duck Key.

Marathon has pursued Duck Key for fire coverage in the past . Marathon officials met with the Duck Key Propery Owner's' Assocation Executive Board more than four years ago to discuss the possibility of providing fire protection and paramedic coverage.

It seems likely the Marathon Fire District would benefit from taxes (or fees) associated with Duck Key Property values. Revenues would be more than enough to pay for additional fire service personnel to accommodate the needs of Hawks Cay Resort, Hawks Cay Village and the island's residential population.

The County would also benefit in that the Conch Key Station would likely be shut down and the planned $2.7 upgrade eliminated.

Providing fire control and EMT service for the Long Key Bridge and parts of Long Key not within Layton was not discussed at the January 24 meeting.



Below are two tax bills. One for a property on Duck Key and the other for a Marathon property. They illustrate that the municipality of Marathon and unincorporated Monroe County have identical millage rates for

School State and School Local,
General Revenue Fund,
F&F Law Enforcement,
Health Clinic,
Mosquito Control,
South Florida Water Management,
Okeechobee, and
Everglades Construction.

The Unincorporated Monroe County bill shows millage rates for General Purpose MSTU (0.2334), MC Local Road Patrol Law Enforcement (0.3517), AND Lower Keys & Middle Keys Fire & Ambulance (1.8709). The millage rates for the last three add up to 2.4560.

The City of Marathon's millage rate for all its services including Fire/EMT service is 1.6850.

A home in Marathon with a taxable value (assessed value) of $500,000 with no exemption amounts will pay 500 times 9.2059 or $4602.95. A Duck Key home with the same taxable value will pay 500 times 9.9769 or $4,988.45.


DUCK KEY - click on image below for larger view


MARATHON - click on image below for larger view. Note that the Marathon example below has no taxable exemption amount so the taxable value (assesssed value) in the example is more.



Some in attendance at the January meeting suggested that Duck Key residents would save money by having Marathon provide Duck Key with EMT/Fire Service. Should services be shared would the millage rate be less? The County would save money since it would not have to build a new station on Conch Key, but tax wise Duck Key would likely remain in the Lower Keys and Middle Keys Fire District and keep that District's millage rate.



The Monroe Countywebsite showsa ISO ratings for the Conch Key Station of 4/9.



From verbal comments expressed it seems folks in attendance at the meeting were not interested in being annexed by Marathon. Many residents of Duck Key are opposed to Marathon's short term rentals policy and prefer the 28 day rental policy that exists in unincorporated Monroe County. Some residents are concerned Duck Key voice would be drowned out by real estate and business entities in Marathon.

If annexed, Duck Key residents would save on taxes, possibly as much as $770 yearly on a home with an assessed value of $1 million.

The attached Keynoter article provided below quotes Duck Key resident Billy Wagner, "As for annexation, Wagner said it's a possibility. "There's a lot of people on Duck Key that are considering trying to promote that. I'm not sure where they stand on it."

A letter from Duck Key resident Bev Gottshalk's to the Keynoter editor responded to the annexation issue.



Is the location of the Conch Key Station significantly different from that of Grassy Key or for that fact Marathon to make providing service to Duck Key a legitimate issue?

The rebuilding or renovation of the Conch Key Fire Station was a matter of concern for some people in attendance at the meeting because of flood plain elevation.

In the Keynoter artcle, Marathon Fire Chief William Wagner expressed that Conch Key is not the right place for a new station because it's below the floodplain.

". . . if there is a major hurricane, they'll be locked in there. It may not flood the station, but they'll be locked in there."

Marathon ought to know. NOAA estimates that during Wilma between 11 AM and 1 PM Marathon experienced storm tides of 5-8 ft above MSL (mean sea level).

NOAA writes that U.S. Highway 1 was flooded at several locations. In addition, numerous homes, businesses, and Florida Keys Marathon Airport were flooded The same was true for Grassy Key and throughout the middle Florida Keys.

FEMA flood maps show that both the Conch Key Fire Station AND the Jolly Roger location of the Grassy Key Station are in Zone AE designated areas with building elevations of 8 to10 feet. Both areas are beneath the flood plain and both stations would need elevated equipment bays if moving equipment to higher ground is not an option.

FEMA Flood Plain map Grassy Key showing designated elevations.

Monroe County Fire Chief Jim Callahan does not buy the argument that Conch Key is susceptible to flooding. He believes the Conch Key Station is in a good location.

In fact all of Duck Key is within AE and VE Zones of 6 to 10 feet elevation or more and the roads and bridges from Grassy Key and Conch Key to Duck Key have various flood elevations. There is no way of knowing what damage a major hurricane will cause. What are the chances of a North or South Tom's Harbor Bridge washing out or a North or South access road be blocked or washed out?

Elevated equipment bays will protect fire trucks to some degree, but equipment will still have to brave flooded streets in an emergency as was the case during Hurricane Wilma in Marathon. Flood water depths due to surges will determine whether Fire/EMT service is available.

Marathon Fire Rescue - screen shot - flood water up to fire vehicles mid-hubcaps .

screen shot of flooded cars - Marc Averette photo



The National Hurricane Center’s surge model, called SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes), estimates surges associated with different characteristics of tropical cyclones (track, forward speed, wind speed, etc.).

The results can be combined with topographic mapping to delineate inland areas subject to flooding (with a margin of error of +/- 20%). The predicted storm surges in feet above "still water level" for Duck Key is provided below.

Maximum Predicted Water Depths above MSL (mean still water level)

Example - The water depth would be ten feet above still water level for a Category 5 storm tracking WNW and NW. During such a storm it is unlikely that any Fire Station would be providing assistance.




Further south in Key West during Hurricane Wilma, storm tides
peaked at 4.5 to 6.5 ft above MSL throughout the city. City officials estimated that about 60 percent of Key West was inundated, and up to 35 percent of municipal vehicles were flooded.

On the storm surge flood potential map of Key West above, the area shaded in orange is likely to flood with storm surges of 3 feet. The red, yellow, blue, green, and purple are likely to flood with storm surges of 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 ft, respectively.



Duck Key enters Middle Keys firehouse talks
Posted - Saturday, January 30, 2010 10:55 AM EST

A group of Duck Key homeowners quashed talks of annexation and expressed concerns about duplication of fire service.

County Administrator Roman Gastesi asked if Duck Key property owners were considering annexation and was told it's not a possibility. The Duck Key Security Advisory Board called the meeting because it's concerned about suspected turf wars when it comes to fire service.

"Mainly, our meeting was about the fire stations. We all agreed it was a no-brainer. Why build two brand new fire stations within three miles of each other?" Security Board Chairman Tom Neville said. "Roman asked the crowd, Is there any wind of annexation? And they said no, they haven't heard."

The County Commission on Nov. 18 put a hold on county Fire Chief Jim Callahan's recommendation to build a new $2.7 million fire station on Conch Key, saying it prefers a partnership with Marathon instead.

Callahan has met with city officials on several occasions to discuss a joint effort, but the talks have gone nowhere. The two sides differ on where a joint station should be built.

Marathon Fire Chief William Wagner told the Keynoter Conch Key is not the right place for a new station because it's below the floodplain.

"It's below flood base and if there is a major hurricane, they'll be locked in there. It may not flood the station, but they'll be locked in there," Wagner said of a new station on Conch Key.

However, Callahan has long been critical of the city building a fire station less than a mile from its northern city limit. He said he believes it could be related to a possible Marathon annexation of Duck Key, a wealthy island with a big tax base that Marathon could tap.

"I don't know what's going on and where it's headed, but I was surprised to hear anything about it. There's been zero issue with Monroe County covering Duck Key. I heard no complaints from anybody," he said. "Where Marathon is building that fire station, why would they build it at mile marker 59?"

The city has been renting efficiency units at the Jolly Roger Travel Park on Grassy Key in lieu of building a station there. Interim City Manager Peter Rosasco told the Keynoter the city is only providing services to its residents, not looking to build a station to provide service to Duck Key.

"I made it clear the city wasn't there to discuss that topic," Rosasco said of Duck Key's annexation. "Marathon's position is simple. Since we've incorporated, we've been working diligently to provide services in an efficient manner."
Part of that, Rosasco said, is to provide fire service within five miles of all Grassy Key residents. Doing so lowers their fire insurance based on safety standards, he said. But he's willing to work with the county.

Former county Emergency Management Director Billy Wagner, a longtime Duck Key resident, attended the meeting and said the best plan is a joint effort on Grassy Key.

As for annexation, Wagner said it's a possibility.

"There's a lot of people on Duck Key that are considering trying to promote that. I'm not sure where they stand on it. Putting [a fire station] on Conch Key wouldn't prevent that from happening," he said.


Bev Gottschalk Letter to Keynoter

The story in Saturday's Keynoter might give readers the impression that annexation of Duck Key by the city of Marathon is part of the discussion about two proposed new fire stations. While Marathon might be interested in annexing Duck Key, I can assure you that Duck Key property owners have absolutely no interest in being annexed. We are interested in getting the best fire and emergency medical service.
At the Duck Key Security District meeting on Jan. 23, we were told the city is going to build a new fire station on Grassy Key that would meet our needs very well -- at less cost than we are now paying. We were also told that Monroe County has set aside $2.6 million to rebuild the existing station on a Conch Key site that is below floodplain. Why?
It should be a no-brainer for the county to partner with the city on the Grassy Key site, shut down Conch Key and use the $2.6 million to upgrade fire service up the road in Layton.
Bev Gottschalk
Duck Key


County, city still at odds over firehouse

Posted - Saturday, May 08, 2010 06:00 AM EDT

The Monroe County Commission's hopes for a collaborative firehouse effort with the city of Marathon don't look promising.

On Nov. 18, the County Commission put a hold on Fire Chief Jim Callahan's recommendation to build a new Conch Key station for $2.7 million, saying it prefers a partnership with Marathon. But city officials and Callahan have discussed a joint effort several times to no avail.

Yet another meeting to look at the issue is planned for Wednesday, and Marathon City Manager Roger Hernstadt says he's unsure a partnership can work.

"In terms of the physical station itself, what we have to do is say, 'For the fire protection of the residents of Marathon, what is the best location for us?' If we decide to go to the second or third best location, what's the effect?" Hernstadt said.

Hernstadt is referring to the city's planned Grassy Key fire station, which it plans to build whether Monroe moves forward on Conch Key or not. The County Commission was hoping for a collaborative effort to save money.

"Where should the facility be and what's the most cost-effective way to staff the facility? We have numbers and are prepared to discuss that. My belief is that our numbers will be cheaper. If the Monroe County Fire Department can show me an all-in number I have 100 percent confidence in, I have an obligation to tell our council that," Hernstadt said.

Callahan has been publicly critical of Marathon building a fire station at mile marker 59, on the outskirts of its city limits. He insinuated Friday there's a larger issue at hand -- the potential annexation of Duck Key for its large tax base.

"There's only one conclusion you can draw from that," Callahan said of Marathon's plans. "It makes no sense to me, but again, I'm trying to work with Marathon. I work for the [County Commission] and I have to do the best I can for the citizens of Monroe County. That's what my job and my goal is."

Callahan says he's not sure what will come of Wednesday's meeting, but he made no bones about endorsing, again, a Conch Key fire station.

"If the numbers come in lower, so be it, but where the firehouse should be is protecting Marathon and not Monroe County. We have been providing fire and EMS service to Hawks Cay [Resort] and Duck Key for years," he said.

Callahan was also critical of the common argument that Conch Key is susceptible to flooding.

"Is it in a flood plain? Yes, and the other whole 100 miles of Monroe County is in a floodplain. We have the money budgeted and it's in a good location. [The money has] been there for years."




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