SWFD discusses new hires, fire stations, lifeguard towers, and grants

LIFEGUARDS are back on duty. (Photo Courtesy of SWFD)

By RUBY KEARCE

South Walton Fire District (SWFD) Board of Commissioners met for its regular meeting on March 11. Chief Ryan Crawford began his report by introducing some new members to the SWFD team, starting with Kacie Brunza, who was hired to fulfill the new accountant position. Kathleen Nolan and James Miles have both started the orientation process for 911 telecommunicators positions. Both Nolan and Miles bring experience to the table, Nolan has more than 20 years experience as a paramedic, and Miles has 20 years experience as a 911 telecommunicator. Five new firefighters are also set to begin the new hire orientation. 

Crawford informed the commissioners that SWFD had multiple divisions represented at the Florida Fire Service Day on the Hill during the month of Feb. This event hosted a multitude of fire departments from across the state that showcased specialized response apparatus and equipment, innovative programs and initiatives, as well as demonstrations aimed at enhancing the health, safety, and well being of firefighters. This event is organized by the State Fire Marshal’s Office in order to create political advocacy for fire service with state legislators. 

On Feb. 16, SWFD issued a Notice to Proceed to the general contractor for the expansion and reconstruction of the Miramar Beach Fire Station. Crawford explained that this contract is 460-days with substantial completion no later than May 21, 2025 and the final completion no later than June 20, 2025. Crawford assured the commissioners that as of noon the day of the meeting, workers were on site moving dirt and had commissioned site work. 

Crawford also informed the commissioners that SWFD had received the preliminary Geotech exploration report from the St. Joe property that is currently being considered for the future home of Fire Station #6, in the Watersound N area. The SWFD civil engineer is currently evaluating the report, but Crawford said that at first glance it appears as though the parcel will adequately support the construction of the fire station. An RFP for architectural design and engineering services has been drafted by SWFD staff, and it is the district’s intention to proceed with solicitation for an architectural firm as soon as possible to begin the design of the facility as well as remain on track with the project’s timelines. 

Lifeguards have returned to south Walton beaches as of March 1, and have resumed seasonal coverage from the Regional Beach Accesses between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., as well as the private properties of Rosemary Beach and Sandestin Resort. Crawford said that SWFD received notice that the Van Ness Butler Regional Beach Access is no longer accessible to the public, and from what he understands this is the result of litigation between Walton County and Watercolor Community Association over an easement abandonment clause and customary use. This beach access was one of SWFD’s designated lifeguard tower locations, and doing away with this location reportedly will leave a three-mile gap between lifeguard towers on the beach. 

SWFD staff is currently in communication with Walton County leadership in hopes of amending the terms of the beach safety contract due to tower locations being specifically listed to the addresses of each regional beach access. SWFD has proposed to relocate this tower to the nearest available neighborhood beach access to the east rather than doing away with the location altogether to lessen the gap to two miles. 

SWFD has continued its efforts to locate and register all public access automated external defibrillators (AED’s), with a total of 58 AED’s currently registered. This is a total of 25 newly registered devices since Jan. 1 of 2024. All AED’s devices are Geo-logged into the PulsePoint database, giving anyone access to this data through the free Pulsepoint smartphone app. 

SWFD has applied for federal funding through FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. This application was created to seek funding to aid SWFD in the purchase of a firefighter rehab and air truck. This new apparatus will not only provide a greater capacity with an onboard breathing air compressor that could refill spent SCBA bottles at the scene of an incident, but it can also be used to transport critical equipment such as cooling misters, tents for environmental protection of firefighters, rehab chairs, hydration, and medical monitoring equipment that is provided in the NFPA 1584 standard. 

Crawford explained that if this grant is awarded it would be a 90-percent federal and 10- percent local cost share, with a $871,000 total project cost, saying that this vehicle would also serve as a paramedic capable resource for medical incidents on the east side of SWFD’s area, such as Seaside, Seagrove, and Watercolor.