Coral Gables firefighters plead with the city for additional staff

Coral Gables firefighters continue to plead with the city for $600,000 to fund two additional positions to fill a ladder truck, one of the city’s most important pieces of machinery when it comes to high-rise fires. 

“Five years have already passed since the developer agreement was signed, calling for two additional firefighters, and here we are with no additional firefighters,” said David Perez, Coral Gables firefighter and union representative.

The city of Coral Gables and the firefighters discussed the staffing needs before approving the construction of The Plaza, seven acres of hotel, retail and residential spaces with up to 19 stories buildings near Ponce De Leon and Coral Way. 

Youtube video on The Plaza’s website

Agave Ponce LLC, The Plaza developer, included funding for two new firefighters to staff the ladder truck in the 2015 construction agreement with the city of Coral Gables. 

That agreement was amended in 2018, adding $2.7 million to fund public safety and public art. But, during the budget meeting on Sept. 13, 2021, the city diverted the funds toward a new public safety building for police and fire department headquarters.

A surprise that did not sit well with the firefighters union. “It was just taken off without consulting us,” says Tom Zelenak, president of Local 1210, Coral Gables firefighters union. 

When high-rise fires occur in buildings such as The Plaza, firefighters must focus on water supply, search and rescue, ventilation, elevator control, medical care and accountability of personnel, among many issues. According to Perez, without enough staff, there is a possibility not all tasks can be completed, putting residents at risk. 

“We are short 11 people right from the initial call,” said Perez. “This is a matter of public safety for the residents we provide the service to and, the men and women who respond to the call.” 

According to the 2019 National Fire Protection Association standards, 43 firefighters should be located in the station. But the city of Coral Gables currently has only 32.

While this is not an immediate requirement, according to Zelenak, it is something the department should strive for. 

Mayor Vince Lago responded to Perez, explaining he is committed to ensuring the station is the best in Florida. In addition, commissioner Rhonda Anderson said the city manager and fire chief are currently working on staffing plans for the station in response to the meeting. 

“I anticipate those plans will be available in the next few months,” she said.

Angela Rivas is a Miami native majoring in Journalism and minoring in Criminal Justice. She has a passion for writing and dreams of becoming a journalist telling stories about our world.