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Firefighters, residents sound off on proposal to merge fire departments

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Residents in Jacksonville Beach were invited to sound off Monday night on a proposal to merge its fire department services with the City of Jacksonville.

During the public workshop, Jacksonville Beach City Council members listened as firefighters and the public voiced their opinion. Supporters, including Lt. John McDaniel with the Jacksonville Beach Fire Department, said the move makes sense for firefighters.

"Currently, several are forced to work 72 hours without a day off, and then after a day off, work another 24 hours," McDaniel said. "That's four of five days they are required to work."

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Other supporters point to the quantity of Duval County's operation. Lt. Patrick Riley, who works for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, lives at the beach.

"I feel it's a great idea," Riley said. "Would make me feel more comfortable on my shift in Jacksonville when I'm not home with my family at the beach."

Voices in support were balanced by those against a merger, who pointed to a potential longer arrival time for first responders.

"I want you to think about something. Hold your breath for a minute-and-a-half, because that's what we're asking," said Fire Marshal Steve Sciotto with the Jacksonville Beach Fire Department. "That's going to be a delay to the drowning child, the overdosed teenager, the parent having a stroke, or the cardiac arrest patient."

Other people opposed to the merger did not like the idea of giving up local control of the department.

"I'm absolutely amazed anyone considers this a good thing for Jacksonville Beach," said Jacksonville Beach resident Jim Burginer.

A vote is expected on the proposal during the City Council meeting next Monday.

About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.