Following public outcry in response to an email about ticketing ambulances using Orange Avenue, City Commissioner Susan Chapman has apologized for her comments.
Subject: Ambulance scofflaws.
That’s how the email that has inspired outspoken criticism against City Commissioner Susan Chapman began. Sent Dec. 30, the email to city administration notes that two ambulances were using Orange Avenue as they returned from Sarasota Memorial Hospital to their base at Fire Station No. 1 on Fourth Street.
Chapman, who lives near Orange Avenue just south of the Hudson Bayou, has repeatedly raised concerns about vehicles using the street as a detour route while the Osprey Avenue bridge is closed. On this day, she went a step further.
“Orange Avenue south of Mound is a residential street that restricts trucks,” Chapman wrote in regard to the ambulances. “I think it is time for these vehicles to be ticketed.”
That email, publicly available to read on the city’s website, quickly spread on social media. One of the people who saw it was Maverick Johnson, a co-host of the Maverick and Lulu radio show on 92.1 CTQ. Johnson took exception to the email, and discussed it on the morning show. Listeners felt the same way.
“We felt that was crazy,” Johnson said. “We talked it about on the air on Tuesday, and the outrage has grown and grown and grown.”
That outrage culminated in a show of support for Sarasota firefighters and paramedics this morning. Maverick and Lulu broadcasted live from Morton’s Gourmet Market on Osprey Avenue, encouraging listeners to come by and sign a banner thanking those first responders for their work.
The event, a direct response to Chapman’s comments, drew out hundreds of people, Johnson said. One of them was Chapman herself, who offered an on-air apology that drew applause from those in attendance.
In an interview with the Sarasota Observer a day earlier, Chapman acknowledged she made an error in judgment.
“I shouldn’t have said it,” Chapman said. “I admit it.”
Chapman said she wasn’t being serious about ticketing ambulance drivers, but that she was legitimately troubled by the vehicles driving down Orange Avenue. She said other people in her neighborhood have raised the same concerns to her, and that she was only speaking out on behalf of residents.
“I see it enough to know it’s an issue,” she said. “I get complaints about it.”
More broadly, residents have expressed concerns about traffic on Orange during the yearlong closure of the Osprey bridge. In December, the city installed a temporary speed table on the street after the neighborhood requested it.
There are also signs on the road marking that through traffic is prohibited for trucks. City spokeswoman Jan Thornburg said officials are asking drivers to voluntarily comply with the designated detour route on U.S. 41, but Chapman wanted staff to coordinate to ensure ambulances weren’t cutting through the neighborhood.
“What I had asked them to do — and what my neighborhood asked them when we were planning this — is to talk to fire stations and the emergency rooms about cooperation,” Chapman said.
But Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier said ambulance drivers are not instructed to avoid specific streets. He said the two ambulances Chapman identified in her email are the busiest in the county, and that their priority is expediency.
“They’re taught from the beginning as an EMT and paramedic that the only way they can respond quickly is to be back in their area as quickly as possible,” Regnier said.
“As a firefighter myself for 28 years, I’m always looking to get back to the area I’m serving as quickly as possible to help the community.” — Michael Regnier
Merv Kendall, president of the Suncoast Professional Firefighters and Paramedics union, expressed a similar sentiment during today’s event at Morton’s. He said he was shocked by Chapman’s comments, and that the ambulance drivers were trying to do their job to the best of their ability.
“Our guys don’t pick Orange Avenue to make noise,” Kendall said. “At a time traffic is tough, taking 41 and a route everyone would prefer — you’re likely to get stuck in traffic.”
Kendall said he accepted Chapman’s apology, and that he was hopeful emergency personnel would be able to do their work without drawing additional criticism going forward.
Chapman remains interested in exploring a potential solution that would involve addressing the concerns she has raised.
“I recognize this is a special situation, and we all have to try to work through it,” Chapman said.