UNIVERSITY PARK -- Emergency response times for residents who live near University Parkway will be faster as the Sarasota County Fire Department and the Southern Manatee Fire Rescue District collaborate.
The Sarasota County Commission approved an agreement Tuesday calling for the collaboration. The two agencies share the border along University Parkway from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport east to Interstate 75.
Sarasota County Fire Chief Mike Tobias said the agreement could decrease response times by one to three minutes, which could mean the difference between life or death during a house fire or medical emergency.
Under a mutual aid agreement signed in 1998, both fire departments, along with Charlotte and DeSoto counties, have assisted each other during busy periods and large emergencies. The agreement requires the requesting agency's shift commander to contact other agencies to approve the assist. This step adds minutes to response times and distracts first-responders from their mission, fire officials said.
The new agreement will automate the process by using a computer system that allows the dispatch center to send help depending on the location and type of incident. Shift commander approval is bypassed altogether.
"This removes phone calls and makes it an automated aid agreement," Tobias said. "It speeds up the response and just strengthens the ties and bonds we've had for many years."
Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue operates a station at 7301 Honore Ave., which could come in handy during disasters along University Parkway or at the new 880,000-square-foot Mall at University Town Center due to open Oct. 16. A new Sarasota County fire station being built on DeSoto Road near the mall won't be completed until the fall 2015, and the closest existing station is 5 miles away at 298 N. Cattlemen Road.
"Right now the county does not have a fire station by that new mall where we do so ... you're talking a response time within three minutes to that area from our station," said Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue Chief Brian Gorski.
If the county were responding, there could be a six- to eight-minute response time, he said.
According to the agreement, the two agencies are responsible for funding their own services. Tobias said no additional funding was required to cement the contract.
"We're working to improve services to residents of Sarasota and Manatee," he said. "In these types of emergencies, time really counts."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.