Buddy, Can You Spare a Multimillion-Dollar Fire-Service Contract?

A pair of firefighters' unions waging a turf war in Key Biscayne and the Port of Miami? Gee, times really are tough.

Rhonda Sibilia insists the change doesn't cost county taxpayers anything. The port will continue to contribute $500,000, she says, the same amount it paid Miami for fire-rescue services; the Metro Fire Department will absorb the rest by transferring two around-the-clock positions from other fire stations. To make up for net personnel loss, the Metro union agreed to allow some fire vehicles to operate with three firefighters on board, as opposed to four, the standard number.

Hills defends his union's actions at the port, which has become the busiest cruise hub in the world, with more than three million passengers per year. Arguing further that the port merits its own fully staffed, on-site fire station, Hills cites for comparison the world's second-busiest cruise port, Port Everglades, 23 miles to the north. Port Everglades, which has a staff of 40 firefighters based in their own station on the premises, spends $4.7 million annually year for its fire-rescue services.

The escalating debate has eroded any goodwill and camaraderie that ever existed between the two fire departments. "What we need is cooperation by departments and mutual aid," laments Hills. "What we get is fighting over territories."

The city's union leader, Bill Bryson, comments: "We stayed out of the issue until they started sending letters. It's gotten very sticky. We don't even talk any more.

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