When roughly 5,000 residents in Pebble Creek, Live Oake, Cross Creek and other communities located in unincorporated Hillsborough County lost their City of Tampa fire rescue service in 2018, Hillsborough County turned to nearby Pasco County for service.
With a new mayor in office, they have now turned back to Tampa.
On September 18, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) agreed by a 7-0 vote to finalize an agreement with the City of Tampa to restore its fire service to the area, which former Mayor Bob Buckhorn ended in 2017 after demanding the county pay roughly five times what it was already paying.
Under the new proposed agreement, the county will pay the city $600,000 a year for service from the four stations located in New Tampa. It also gave a 90-day notice to Pasco County which, in lieu of the City of Tampa, has been providing service for the unincorporated area since 2018.
“This is great news for New Tampa,” said Hillsborough County commissioner Ken Hagan, who represents the New Tampa area in District 2. “Restoring Tampa’s fire rescue service to unincorporated New Tampa was my No. 1 priority. It was the first thing I met with (newly elected) Mayor Jane Castor about when she got elected. I’m absolutely thrilled that we’ve reached an agreement in principle.”
District 6 Commissioner Pat Kemp agreed, and offered thanks to Mayor Castor for being open to renegotiating.
“This is the most sensible and safe solution to serve the residents there,” Kemp said.
The nearest Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Station is the University Area Station No.5 on E. 139th Ave., which is more than 10 miles from most of Pebble Creek.
So while the $600,000 is nearly three times what the county was paying in its previous agreement with the City of Tampa, “it is $900,000 less than what the City previously wanted, and it is far less than what it would cost to construct and operate a fire station in the area,” Hagan said.
Hagan said he recently spoke at a Homeowners Association meeting in Cross Creek, and fire rescue service was one of the first concerns raised. He says he came to the BOCC with nine letters of support from HOAs in the unincorporated areas of New Tampa.
“The best-case scenario was to ultimately restore service, and unfortunately, that required a new Mayor,” Hagan said.
In 2017, Buckhorn said the City of Tampa would no longer provide fire rescue service to the unincorporated portion of New Tampa, which it had done since 1998 with some combination of Fire Stations No. 20 in Tampa Palms and Nos. 21(located across Cross Creek Blvd. from the Cross Creek community) and 22 on Cross Creek Blvd., In February, another station, No. 23, opened just off of County Line Rd. on Trout Creek Dr., essentially surrounding unincorporated New Tampa with fire rescue stations.
Without coverage from the city, Hillsborough turned to Pasco County for help. For $275,000 a year, Pasco — primarily Pasco County Fire Rescue Station No. 26, located in the nearby Meadow Pointe I community of Wesley Chapel — provided emergency services to unincorporated New Tampa.
“Pasco has done a good job, but the reality is the response times are longer,” Hagan said. “A few calls have taken over 20 minutes to respond. I’ve also heard horror stories from residents who have had to call 911 a second time or have taken matters into their own hands and driven loved ones to the ER themselves. As a result, New Tampa has been begging the county to contract with Tampa.”
Pebble Creek residents created a Facebook page and online petition asking the County to build a fire station closer to them.
While Tampa’s closer fire rescue stations could still respond to emergencies if the Pasco Fire Rescue Trucks were occupied — due to a mutual aid agreement between the counties — all local calls in the unincoporated areas were diverted first to Pasco Fire Rescue.
A return to the old agreement, Hagan says, is simply more convenient, and safer, for area residents.
“I can tell you, the community is absolutely delighted that Tampa Fire Rescue is once again going to be providing service to unincorporated New Tampa,” Hagan said.