The purpose of the tour was to help Sarasota County dispatchers learn the unique parts of Longboat Key for when someone calls 911.
The Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department and the dispatch center for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office wanted to clear up any confusion.
Longboaters know Greer Island and Beer Can Island are synonymous. They also know La Lenaire Drive is on Jewfish Key, which has eight residential homes but is only accessible by boat.
Emergency calls from all of Longboat, and most of the rest of Sarasota County, are routed to the Sarasota Emergency Operations and 911 Dispatch Center on Porter Road, about 15 miles east of Longboat Key Town Hall. From there, a telecommunicator gathers information on the type of emergency, location and more. Town police or fire units are then assigned to respond, backed up by responders from other jurisdictions if necessary. Countywide, call takers can handle as many as 650,000 calls a year, about 10% of which typically come from Longboat Key.
On Thursday morning, Fire Chief Paul Dezzi, Assistant Chief Jane Herrin and Fire EMS Liaison and Public Information Officer Tina Adams gave dispatchers a tour of the island. It also included a walk-through of the newly renovated Fire Station 91 at 5490 Gulf of Mexico Drive and the new Fire Station 92 at 2162 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
It's not the first time dispatchers have visited the island for the purpose of learning more about its roads, landmarks and geography. And town fire-rescue staff have visited the operations center, too, putting faces to the voices they often connect with via radio.
“Taking calls from members on Longboat Key, now we can kind of like see, ‘Oh, this is where they’re talking about. This is the landmark that they’re referencing,’” said Sarasota County communications operator Ashley Patrick.
The Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department had an average response time of four minutes and 49 seconds in October 2021 between its two stations, according to Adams.
Adams also provided data that shows the department averaged a five-minute, 32-second response time in the third quarter of 2021 and had an average response time of five minutes and 23 seconds in 2020.
Patrick and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michelle DiCapua recommended anyone having to call 911 to describe their surroundings so dispatchers can get first responders to quickly respond.
“It’s such a long street out there, Gulf of Mexico Drive, so try to get a reference point or landmark like, ‘We’re near the Publix or we’re near this condo,’” DiCapua said. “Try to get the cross street if you can or the 100 block that you’re in.”
Knowing the nearest cross street is also helpful.
“Greer Island is definitely one of those,” Patrick said. “(We’ll hear), ‘Oh, here I’m at this location.’ Ok, this is a huge area. Where are we? Describe to me what you see?’”
DiCapua and Patrick said it was the first time this particular group of staffers had done a tour with a city or town’s fire or police department.
“Normally, we have people into the communication center to do a tour,” DiCapua said. “So we’ve had (the) Sarasota Police Department come into the communication center, and we give them a tour around the center. This is how we take calls.”
On Thursday, Dezzi showed dispatchers where the fire rescue department stores its boat at the Harbourside docks. The police department also stores one of its boats there. The police’s other boat is stored at the Police Department at 5460 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
“We can’t get to (Jewfish Key) by truck, so we have to send our boat,” Dezzi said.
In July, the dispatch center began categorizing Greer Island and Jewfish Key into eight different sectors instead of trying to direct officers to individual points in the entire area.
“It’s not frequent-frequent that we get calls out there, but we do get enough that it makes an issue when we’re trying to find out where they are,” Patrick said.
Condominium complexes with multiple buildings also present a challenge for dispatchers and first responders.
“Let’s say some complex may have five or six or seven buildings in one address, we got to make sure we’re going to (the right one),” Dezzi said.
Dezzi said the town averages about 1,800 calls to 911 each year. He said the town’s busiest time of the year is from December through March, when snowbird season is underway.
In 2016, the town switched its 911 dispatch service from in-house dispatchers and Manatee County 911 service to Sarasota County’s Emergency Operations Center.
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