Manatee fire chiefs concerned about access to developments

srocco@bradenton.comJanuary 4, 2014 

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Firefighters with Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue and Bradenton Fire Department take part in rapid intervention crew training Wednesday at the former Dillard's department store at DeSoto Square Mall.GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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MANATEE -- The Manatee County Fire Chiefs' Association has raised concerns with the county regarding the ease of access in future residential communities, fearing a lag in emergency response time.

In a letter to county Commissioner Larry Bustle, the association, along with the county's public safety department, opposes the narrowing of road widths and the extension of cul de sacs beyond 800 feet. The fire chiefs also reaffirmed their view that operating a secondary entrance is crucial in residential developments larger than 100 units in size.

The concerns come, the association contends, because the county has received many requests from developers for special permission to bypass the county's land development code.

"More and more I think that we've tried to work with the development community ... and they're asking more and more frequently for permission to build outside of the code, and I think we're starting to get a little less supportive of doing those things," said Ron Koper, the county's public safety director.

According to Manatee County land development code, public roadways must

maintain a 24-foot width. Fire chiefs are against anything less.

"It's more or less a safety issue," said Chuck Edwards, president of the association and Bradenton's fire chief. "A safety concern to make sure our streets are wide enough to get our apparatus through."

Officials are also concerned that developers are proposing cul de sac lengths greater than 800 feet, the land development code limit.

"Should all or a portion of a 'dead end' street become blocked with no reasonably close alternative entrance, emergency services response times will be delayed," states the letter, dated Dec. 6.

The fire chiefs also stated that developments over 100 units in size should have a second entrance point "to allow emergency services access should the other entrance be blocked for any reason."

Edwards said he would not comment on the issue further until after fire chiefs meet with county commissioners to discuss the issues. A date and time is still to be determined.

As the county works to revamp its land development code, the chiefs composed the letter to solidify their opinions, Koper said.

"We wanted to make a statement that these things are important to us and we'd like to see those remain in the land development code as they are. We wouldn't support withdrawing those elements from (the code) because there's an operational purpose to them," he said.

Bustle said he and staff would consider all the chiefs' concerns.

"I believe there's room for negotiation ... on all issues that the chiefs mentioned," he said. "Staff is going to be looking at our policies as they stand now based on what the chief said in his letter, and they're probably going to evaluate whether we need to modify our policies."

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.

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