By: Anne Geggis
The call has gone out — Coconut Creek wants faster emergency response times and is eyeing a merger with Coral Springs’ 911 dispatch as its quickest route.
All systems appeared to be a go for Coconut Creek to join the county’s only standalone municipal emergency dispatch if the Coconut Creek City Commission workshop on Jan. 16 was any indication. In addition to the 911 merger, most Coconut Creek commission members also expressed support for an eventual merger with Coral Springs fire service.
A four-city 911 dispatch system and fire department that would form a “Turnpike West” emergency district bounded by the Everglades to the west and Florida’s Turnpike to the east is a “no-brainer,” said Coconut Creek Mayor Josh Rydell.
Coconut Creek and Margate are currently partners in fire-fighting as are Coral Springs and Parkland.
Besieged with complaints about fire trucks whizzing by and 911 operators who appeared completely unfamiliar with the area, in 2017, Coconut Creek began looking to get out of the current countywide 911 system. The commission raised taxes, expressly for exploring alternatives to its current setup.
“They failed us,” said Commissioner Lou Sarbone. “I never imagined we’d have so many complaints.”
Coconut Creek’s resolve has only been strengthened by subsequent reports of emergency dispatch malfunctions that occurred during the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland at which 17 people lost their lives, Mayor Rydell said.
“The tragedy highlighted how effective the Coral Springs 911 system really is and the faults in the county’s system,” Rydell said.
Jeffrey Gary, fire marshal of Coconut Creek Fire Rescue, said he’s already talked to the Coral Springs’ fire administration about how such a fire department merger could take place operationally – and both departments stand ready to do it.
But the union representing the Coconut Creek/Margate firefighters has some doubts, and so does at least one of the leaders in Margate, Coconut Creek’s current partner in fire-fighting.
Vice Mayor Tommy Ruzzano said he doesn’t think his city wants to go along with merging dispatch or the fire departments.
“To go along with another city … we’re better than that,” he said.
Coral Springs commissioned a study of what it would take to merge the four cities’ emergency dispatch. It concluded that such a merger would cost $2.032 million in equipment and $2.7 million in personnel. The report, however, that came out in November has not yet gone to the Coral Springs commission.
Coral Springs Commissioner Dan Daley said it’s too early to tell what direction the possible merger would go. A Parkland spokesman did not return a call seeking comment on the potential 911 and fire merger.
For now, Coconut Creek and Margate plan to renew their current, joint fire contract that expires in September of this year for its 21st year.
“This [potential merger] is more complicated than we could work out in nine months,” Coconut Creek City Manager Mary Blasi said.
Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.