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Fire district improves beach response
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Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District Chief Robert Polk discusses the benefits of its new utility vehicle at a ceremony Nov. 29 at the Indian Rocks Beach station.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Here’s a given: Fire trucks don’t do well in soft sand.

To the rescue comes a foundation that provided a $16,700 utility vehicle to the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District.

The Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation donated the John Deere Gator Utility Terrain Vehicle and equipment to the fire district. Foundation representatives, district employees and community leaders were on hand during a ceremony Nov. 29 at the district’s station at 301 First St. in Indian Rocks Beach.

District Fire Chief Robert Polk thanked the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation for its “commitment to public safety.”

“This has been a project that’s kind of been on the drawing board for quite awhile,” Polk said. “Unfortunately, we, like a lot of agencies today, don’t have the economic wherewithal to do everything we would like to do.”

From the district’s standpoint, he said the acquisition was a collaborative effort. One of the department’s lieutenants searched for a grant and found out how to acquire it. The finance director and executive assistant put together all the details and “lo and behold we were successful.”

The district has more than eight miles of beach coastland that it is obligated to serve with fire and EMS protection.

“As you might imagine, we don’t typically put fire trucks on the beach. They don’t do well in soft sand,” he said, “and it’s very hard to maneuver.”

So for years, the department’s personnel have had to move patients great distances by using a board and carrying them to a waiting ambulance. Sometimes the distance is hundreds of yards.

“So this gives us the ability not only to go on the beach and move patients in a motorized fashion, it is also capable of pulling our boat, so we can take the boat right out and do beach launches for people who are stranded and in need of help right out into the Gulf,” Polk said.

There are many special events on the beaches attracting large numbers of people, making matters difficult to move large fire trucks on crowded streets.

“So this also can double as a special event vehicle. We can move in and around crowds. We can work in parks. We can drive down sidewalks. We can go a lot of places where a fire truck can’t go,” Polk said.

Through its nonprofit organization, Firehouse Subs has given more than $5.2 million worth of equipment and resources to 465 different organizations.

“That’s something we are extremely proud of but we wouldn’t be able to do it without our restaurants and our guests,” said Meghan Bender, foundation development manager.

Each Firehouse Subs recycles leftover 5-gallon pickle buckets and sells them to guests for $2. Donation canisters on register counters explain the nonprofit organization’s mission and collects spare change.
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