Guest Column: We're gonna need a bigger boat

P.A. DeFrenza Destin
Lifeguards should have applied oxygen and put the man secured to a backboard to carry safely when Destin firefighters arrived.

The Destin Fire Control District has a Beach Safety division that has trained lifeguards in stands, on wave runners and on ATV’s. The vehicles are equipped with oxygen and backboards, but on Aug. 7 around 1- 1:30 p.m. by the Crab Trap, I saw a man lying down by the water’s edge and he did not move.

I was going to assist but two trained lifeguards were standing there. No oxygen or backboard was applied to this patient, even though the man was seemingly unresponsive and had a dusky hue to his skin color. Destin firefighters arrived within minutes and they literally had to quickly manually carry the man to the ATV on very uneven and unstable sand. The lifeguards stood by as firefighters carried the patient.

So why didn’t these lifeguards apply oxygen or place him on a backboard before the Destin firefighters arrived? Where was our County EMS Emergency Medical Personnel and ambulance? I did not see them. If this man had a metabolic condition that led to heart attack and had gone into cardiac arrest, there was no solid surface placed under him by lifeguards to perform effective CPR. There was no oxygen applied. FYI: Our Destin Firefighter/Medics only have engines, no ambulance to rapidly transport.

The Destin Fire Budget has listed $599,972 in Beach Safety funds ($100,000 is from the City of Destin and the remainder is TDC contributions) to operate these lifeguards, vehicles and equipment. Why hadn’t the lifeguards acted? Why didn’t these Lifeguards help to carry the man? I wonder how long it took for the county ambulance to arrive and actually “take over” patient care and transport?

The Destin fire chief and commissioners should think before offering to spend yet another $45,000 to $50,000 on staffing and patrolling Crab Island. Enhancing our own emergency medical services should be a priority. Give the firefighter/paramedics a piece of equipment to work with; an ambulance! Even if it’s to arrive first, stabilize and treat until the county ambulance arrives to transport.

If we treated and transported, it would be $900 per transport, for thousands of EMS calls each year to fund our budget. It’s time to begin the process of separating from the county EMS and get our tax dollars returned via a subsidy to provide immediate response and care to our citizens and its 80,000-90,000 annual visitors. South Walton separated from Walton County EMS 14 years ago, under visionary Fire Chief Les Hallman. South Walton has four ambulances ready to respond with paramedics in their fire stations, Destin does not!

Recently Destin Fire Commissioners authorized $50,000 for a brand new second fire command vehicle. Why? A new $450,000 expense is pending for another fire apparatus. A lawyer from South Florida was hired to negotiate union contracts at an estimated tune of $30,000. Adding one more service, the Crab Island boat Patrol, will cost $45,000-$50,000 to operate. I’m sure that at some point, the next expense request by the fire chief to the fire commissioners will be: $100,000 please, we need a bigger boat.

Just Say No. Let the Coast Guard do their job at Crab Island. They rescue people and have an onboard bilge/fire pump too. The sheriff’s department patrols at Crab Island as well. Get them trained as first responders. When we lost six experienced fire/medics due to budget constraints, why would the Destin fire chief take on more services and expenses? Where is this fiscally responsible fire commissioners?

Call the fire department and leave a message for the Destin fire commissioners at 850-837-8413. Share on Facebook. See more Fire Department expenses at under documents, minutes.

P.A. DeFrenza