Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue (PBCFR) is a combination career/volunteer fire department responsible for providing Fire Protection, Emergency Medical Services, ALS Transport, Hazardous Materials Mitigation, Special Operations, Aircraft Firefighting, 9-1-1 Dispatching, Public Education, Fire Inspections, Fire Investigations, and Building Plans Review for unincorporated Palm Beach County, Florida and certain cities under contract.
Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue
was created on October 1, 1984, when the Palm Beach County
Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution consolidating the existing fire districts in Palm Beach County.
Prior to 1984 the following fire districts were in existence, covering mostly unincorporated Palm Beach County:
- Juno Beach
- Old Dixie
- Military Park
- Trail Park
- Del Trail
- Canal Point
- Palm Beach International Airport
These departments consolidated, under the leadership of Chief Herman Brice, into Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue. Most of the incorporated cities, unless they were under a contract with a fire district, retained their own departments.
Mergers since 1990
The following departments merged into Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue
between 1990 and 2000:
- Lantana Fire-Rescue (October 1, 1997)
- Royal Palm Beach Fire-Rescue (March 13, 1999)
Mergers since 2000
- Lake Park Fire Department (June 29, 2002)
- Belle Glade Fire Department
- Pahokee Fire Department
- South Bay Fire Department
The minimum staffing is as follows:
- Engines and Quints:
- 1 Company Officer (Operational Lieutenant or Captain)
- 1 Driver Operator
- 1 Firefighter
- 1 Rescue Lieutenant
- 1 Firefighter/Paramedic
- 1 Firefighter/EMT
- Special Operations (Haz-Mat/Dive/High Angle Rescue):
- 1 Haz-Mat Driver/Operator
- 1 Firefighter/Haz-Mat Technician
- Tenders (formerly "Tankers"):
- Brush trucks are not normally staffed except during Fire Warning periods or after hurricanes. The crew from the engine takes the truck if it is needed and they both operate together as a Task Force.
Open assignments are bid twice a year and are chosen by seniority. If a person already holds an assignment, they cannot be "bumped" out of it unless the station is being disbanded or as a disciplinary action.
Battalion Chiefs work Monday-Friday (except on holidays). All ranks District Chief and below work a 24-hours on, 48-hours off schedule. Each officer and firefighter is assigned to a shift, of which there are 3: A, B, and C. There is only one shift on at a time. Tours are for 24 hours and run from 0730 to 0730 the next morning. Employees of the same rank and assignment may "swap" tours with one another, if approved by their respective approving supervisor.
Every three weeks each firefighter gets a "Kelly Day, also called a "work week adjustment". This is a day off to bring the work week down to the negotiated number of hours. For instance, if a firefighter works 24-hours on and 48-hours off without a Kelly Day, that firefighter would be working a 56-hour work week. PBCFR has a negotiated 48-hour work week, so each firefighter is given 24-hours off every three weeks to compensate for the time difference. The Kelly Day always falls on the same day of the week for the individual firefighter, and is bid once a year based on seniority (the more senior people get the more desirable days).
How incidents are received and transmitted
When a person dials 9-1-1
in Palm Beach County, it goes to the local Public Safety Answering Point
, which is usually the local Sheriff Office or police agency. If the call is of a fire or medical nature, and is in PBCFR's jurisdiction, it is transferred to the PBCFR Communications Center located in the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center in West Palm Beach, Florida
. A calltaker will ascertain the location and nature of the emergency, enter it into the Computer Aided Dispatch
system, and give the caller medical instructions if needed. Meanwhile, another dispatcher, who received the call via the CAD
system, verifies that the closest unit(s) are available for the call.
In July, 2006, the PBCFR Communications Center switched over to a new CAD system, made by Intergraph as well as a new Enhanced 9-1-1 telephone system, made by Positron Public Safety Systems.
Once the unit response is verified, the call is sent to a printer in the fire station and a computerized voice announces the call both in the firehouse and on the radio, alerting the crews to the call. The calls are also sent to the crews via an alpha-numeric paging system. In July, 2006, this computerized voice dispatch system, which is made by Locution Systems, Inc. was put into service. This system notifies the units via a computerized voice over the dispatch channel as well as their fire station directly via the computer network. This system cuts down the time it takes to dispatch a unit to a call, especially if there are other calls holding. The old two-tone paging system is still in place as a backup in the event the computerized system fails.
An Alarm Level
is a representation of how many units are assigned to an incident, and indirectly, the seriousness of the incident. All incidents are initially dispatched at an alarm level of "1". Working fires that require more resources than the first due units can provide are upgraded to a second alarm, which send more units to the scene. Subsequent alarms dispatch more units to the scene. The amount of units being dispatched is dependent on the type of call.
||Units for Type: 11R (Residential Structure Fire)
||Units for Type: 400 (Motor Vehicle Accident) |
|1 (first alarm)
||3 Engines, 1 Rescue, 1 Quint, 1 District Chief, 1 EMS Battalion Captain
||1 Engine, 1 Rescue |
|2 (second alarm - these units are sent after the first alarm units are dispatched, if needed)
||1 Engine, 1 Rescue, 1 District Chief, 1 Battalion Chief, 1 EMS Battalion Captain
||1 Engine, 1 Rescue, 1 District Chief, 1 EMS Battalion Captain |
|3 (third alarm)
||1 Engine, 1 Rescue, Division Chief of Operations
NIMS and "Signals"
Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue follows the National Incident Management System (NIMS)
format for all radio communications. All communications are done in "Plain English" with certain standard terminology specific to the department used as well. Only two "signals" are in use: "Signal 4", which is a motor vehicle accident, and "Signal 7", which is a deceased person. These are holdovers from the "signals" used by the police agencies statewide.
In 2004 the County Commission approved a resolution allowing for funding for the Fire-Rescue Communications Center to come out of the General Fund instead of the Fire-Rescue budget. This change meant that now any city that wanted to be dispatched by Fire-Rescue could do so without having to negotiate a price and a contract, since all taxpayers were paying for it anyway. The concept behind this was to create a "Regionalized Dispatch Center" where the closest unit could be dispatched to a call, regardless of municipal boundaries. This was initially met with opposition from a few cities, citing that this construed "Double Taxation", as they were already providing dispatch services to their own departments yet their citizens were being taxed for the Countywide system. Recently, more and more cities are coming into the new system.
Municipal Fire Departments currently participating in the Countywide Dispatch System
- Lake Worth Fire-Rescue
- North Palm Beach Public Safety
- Palm Beach Gardens Fire-Rescue
- Palm Springs Public Safety
- Tequesta Fire-Rescue
- West Palm Beach Fire Department
Many of the "Gated Communities" in the areas that Fire-Rescue services have their own private security patrols. In a handful of these communities, the patrol officers also act as first responders for medical calls. Some of these communities have even gone the extra step of hiring "Security Medics", who are security patrol officers certified as paramedics
with Advanced Life Support
equipment, capable of initiating life saving measures before the Fire-Rescue paramedics
arrive. The security companies, at their request, are provided with alpha-numeric pagers which alert them of a call in their community. The call is sent to the pager from the Fire-Rescue Computer Aided Dispatch
system and gives them the location and nature of the call.
(Facts obtained from the 2005-2006 Fact Sheet)
Population and Area
- Population Served: 761,018
- Area Covered: 550 square miles of unincorporated Palm Beach County, plus contracts for specific services in: Glades area, portions of Martin County, and the municipalities of Belle Glade, Cloud Lake, Glen Ridge, Haverhill, Jupiter, Juno Beach, Lake Clarke Shores, Lake Park, Lantana, Manalapan, Pahokee, Royal Palm Beach, South Bay, South Palm Beach and Wellington. Also, 9-1-1 and dispatch services (only) provided to the following cities: Lake Worth, North Palm Beach Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Springs, Tequesta, and West Palm Beach.
- Budget: $246 million (FY 05-06)
- Millage Rate: 3.0990 mils
- Number of Personnel: 1301 Career Employees (314 Certified FF/EMT’s, 667 Certified FF/PM’s) and 100 Volunteers
- Number of Stations: 40
- Daily Firefighter Strength: 222 day-time / 220 night-time
- Number of In-Service Units:
- 27 ALS Engines
- 10 BLS Engines
- 37 ALS Rescues
- 2 either/or units
- 3 Rescue Pumpers
- 2 Special Operations Units
- 3 BLS Quints
- 2 ALS Quints
- 3 Tenders (3000 gallons each)
- 4 ARFF Crash Trucks
- 1 Foam Truck
- 1 Light/Air Support Unit
- 2 Aeromedical Helicopters (Trauma Hawk)
Number of Calls
- 22,295 Fire Calls
- 74,706 Medical Calls
- 97,001 TOTAL
Average Response Time: 6 minutes 23 seconds
||Collar and Badge Insignia
||Helmet Shield Color |
|Chief of Department
||5 crossed bugles, gold background
||4 crossed bugles, gold background
||4 crossed bugles, blue background
||3 crossed bugles, gold background
||3 crossed bugles, blue background
||2 vertical parallel bugles, blue background
|Operational Lieutenant (Company Officer)
||1 vertical bugle, gold background
||1 vertical bugle, blue background
||Red with Star of Life
||Silver with driver emblem
||No collar insignia
(includes both EMT and Paramedic)
|Silver with "firefighter scramble"
||No collar insignia
||Silver with "Explorer 'E'"
||No collar insignia
- Chief of Department and Administrator - Chief Herman Brice
- Deputy Chief of Operations - Chief Steve Jerauld
- Division Chief of Operations - Chief Al Sierra
- Division Chief of Rescue/EMS - Chief Bill Peters
- Battalion Chief of Homeland Security - Chief Sean O'Bannon
- Division Chief of Training and Safety - Chief Vicki Sheppard
- Deputy Chief of Fire Prevention/Fire Marshal - Chief Randy Sheppard
- Battalion Chief of Fire Prevention/Deputy Fire Marshal - Chief Jeff Collins
- Deputy Chief of Administration - Chief Steve Delai
- Deputy Chief of Support Services -Chief Michael Southard
Operational Battalion Chiefs
- Battalion 1 - Chief Jim St. Pierre
- Battalion 2 - Chief Nigel Baker
- Battalion 3 - Chief Ron Beesley
- Battalion 4 - Chief Mike Wells
- Battalion 5 - Chief Joaquin Hernandez
- (Battalion 6 is reserved for the City of Palm Beach Gardens Fire Department)
- Battalion 7 - Chief Michael Arena
- Battalion 8 (Airport Fire-Rescue Battalion) - Chief Dave Horowitz
- Battalion 9 - Chief Mark Anderson
- Volunteer Battalion (Unpaid) - Chief Kevin Ratty
The Volunteer Division is used primarily as a reserve division. They are not paged as first-in units, nor are volunteers used for daily staffing. Combat Volunteers have the opportunity to ride at any of the county stations. The Volunteers are called for major fires for rehab and suppression. They operate out of Station 42 in Delray Beach and Station 68 in Lake Park.
- 100 Volunteers
- 50 Combat members serve at the various stations within the county and are at least Firefighter I certified.
- Combat Volunteer : Firefighter I
- Combat-EMT : Firefighter I / EMT
- Combat-Paramedic : Firefighter I / Paramedic
- 50 Non-Combat Volunteers
- Non-Combat members serve in support functions such as administration, investigation, inspections and public education.
Explorers Post (205)
The Explorers post of PBCFR is a program for teens ages 15-20, or 14 and in the 9th grade. Mandatory meetings are held twice a month at PBCFR Station 68 for active Explorers. Once a candidate is voted in as a member of the post, they will be able to train for firematics competitions, and ride along with the professional Firefighter/Paramedics of Palm Beach County. Before an Explorer can participate in the "Ride Along" program, he or she must receive the certification "BLS Healthcare Provider", train on basic firefighting skills, and know where equipment and tools are on a department engine and rescue unit. The post takes new members twice a year.
The post follows a chain of command like Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue. There are five companies within the post, commanded by an Exploring Officer. There are five officers: one Captain and four Lieutenants. To become an officer, a candidate must have completed a designated amount of ride time, and must be a member in good sanding within the post. The bi-weekly meetings are led by the officers in the post; this includes the specific trainings/lectures for the evening, testing and other post business. Post members that meet the prerequisites for Lieutenant or Captain may request an officers position in January, and be voted in to the position by the post.
Once an Explorer has taken and passed a written and two "on-site" knowledge tests of an engine and rescue unit, he or she can go to their local fire station, and ask if a professional Firefighter of PBCFR would be willing to sponsor them in the ride along program. A sponsor is a person that would be responsible for the Explorer when he or she is at the station and on calls. An Explorer can go to the fire station when his or her sponsor is on shift. They can only be at the station between 1600 and 2100 hours, except on weekends and when school is not in session. When an Explorer is on shift, he or she can participate in numerous activities at the station, as well as at emergency scenes. Explorers cannot put themselves into danger while in the field. For example: if there is a HAZMAT situation, an Explorer must stay in a secured area, unless he or she is specifically designated an assignment that would not endanger him or her. When at a structure fire, an Explorer cannot go into the building until the fire is extinguished, and may go through with firefighters and "explore" the damages. He or she can help outside with moving and connecting hoses, preparing hydrants, and mostly being a runner for the company Driver/Operator. When an Explorer is on a medical call, it depends on what the Explorer, and his or her sponsor is comfortable with he or she doing. Because Explorers participating in the "ride along" program are BLS certified, an Explorer may perform CPR, administer Oxygen, take blood pressures, hook up EKGs to patients, and other tasks that require no professional training.
Interested in becoming an Explorer with Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue?
Emergency Medical Service
The majority of emergency calls to which Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue
responds are medical in nature. This is largely due to the large elderly population they service as well as the decrease of fire-related calls over the past few decades.
Advanced Life Support
From its inception in 1984 to today, Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue
has been able to maintain at least one Advanced Life Support
unit in every station, whether it is a Rescue or an Engine. Initially, Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue only provided non-transport ALS
) utilizing modified ambulances and "squad" type utility trucks. A private ambulance service provided BLS
assistance and transported the patient. If the call was a call that met ALS criteria, the Fire-Rescue paramedic
would take the ALS gear and climb into the back of the ambulance
along with the EMT
from the ambulance service. The other Fire-Rescue paramedic
would then follow the ambulance
to the hospital. This setup was very similar to the one depicted in the 1970s TV show Emergency!
Basic Life Support
At the time of consolidation in 1984, Basic Life Support
and transport was done by several local ambulance services in Palm Beach County
Ambulance Services in Palm Beach County in 1984
- North County Ambulance - Responded to "Zone 1": the "North County" area, which is the areas surrounding Jupiter, Tequesta, and Juno Beach.
- Inter-City Ambulance - Responded to "Zone 2": the areas surrounding Palm Beach Gardens, North Palm Beach, Lake Park, and Riviera Beach. They also intermittently provided coverage in the "Western Communities", which was "Zone 11" and covered the Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, and Loxahatchee areas, as well as an area known as The Acreage.
- Atlantic Ambulance - Responded to "Zone 3", "Zone 6", "Zone 9", and "Zone 10". "Zone 3" was the area around the City of West Palm Beach. "Zone 6" was the southern end of Palm Beach County including the cities of Delray Beach and Boca Raton and the surrounding areas. "Zone 9" and "Zone 10" cover "The Glades", which is the western half of Palm Beach County delimited by an area known as "Twenty-Mile Bend".
- JFK Ambulance - Responded to "Zone 4". "Zone 4" covered the southern end of West Palm Beach, Lantana, and Lake Worth, as well as some of the surrounding areas.
- AA Ambulance - Responded to "Zone 5". "Zone 5" was the area around Boynton Beach.
- Southwest Area Volunteer Emergency Services (SAVES) - Responded to "Zone 7". "Zone 7" was the area between the "Western Communities" (Zone 11) and the "Coastal Communities" (Zones 3, 4, and 5). The area they covered was unincorporated Palm Beach County with the exception of the City of Greenacres (called "Greenacres City" at that time). In the early 1990s they were taken over by Bethesda Ambulance, who was then taken over by American Medical Response].
Today, there are only two private ambulance providers left in Palm Beach County: American Medical Response and Medics Ambulance Service. In November, 2007, Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue started a pilot program to transport all BLS patients in certain areas (see "BLS Transport" below).
In 1996 the County Commission enacted an ordinance allowing Fire-Rescue to transport their own ALS
patients. Only Basic Life Support
patients were turned over to the private ambulance services. This practice is still in effect at the present time.
The Traumahawk is an air ambulance used for ALS Transport of trauma, cardiac, and stroke patients meeting certain criteria. It is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Health District, and staffed by Registered Nurses and Paramedics from Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue. Since it is owned and operated by the Health Care District, it is available to any public safety agency requiring trauma, cardiac, or stroke transport via air in Palm Beach County. The on scene Paramedics will decide whether or not a Traumahawk is necessary in a situation basic on certain pre-determined criteria.
On average, a Traumahawk is dispatched between 1 and 5 times a day for traumatic injuries, including those from vehicle accidents to sports injuries. In the western communities it is also used extensively for cardiac and stroke patients since the distance to the closest cardiac and stroke treatment centers is over an hour by ground.
In November, 2007, Fire-Rescue started a pilot program to begin transporting all patients, regardless of whether they are ALS
for "Zone 1", which is the area bordered by Martin County
to the north, 20-Mile Bend
to the west, split down the middle by the Florida's Turnpike
. The area between the Turnpike
west to 20-Mile Bend
is bordered on the south by Lantana Road in suburban Lantana
and Lake Worth
. The area between the Turnpike
and the Atlantic Ocean
(or the eastern border of our jurisdiction where it does not reach the ocean) is bordered on the south by 45th Street in suburban West Palm Beach
The schedule for the project is as follows:
- The following stations began BLS transport November 5, 2007, @ 0730 hrs:
- Stations 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 68
- The following stations began BLS transport November 19, 2007, @ 0730 hrs:
- Stations 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 34, 46, 48
- The following stations began BLS transport December 2, 2007, @ 0730 hrs:
- Stations 23 and 32 (only on or west of the turnpike)
- The following stations began BLS transport January 7, 2008, @ 0730 hrs:
When a request for a medical problem is received by Fire-Rescue, the closest Rescue truck is dispatched. If the closest Rescue is not available, an ALS Engine or ALS Quint
is dispatched. The crew on the ALS Engine carries full Advanced Life Support
gear and can initiate the appropriate care until another Rescue unit arrives to transport the patient. If the patient does not require Advanced Life Support
, a BLS ambulance can be requested from American Medical Response
or Medics Ambulance Service, depending on the location of the incident, to transport the patient in those areas where Fire-Rescue does not provide BLS transport.
Emergency Medical Dispatch
When Fire-Rescue consolidated, the different fire districts also consolidated their dispatch into one central office. The Palm Beach County EMS Dispatch (also known as "MedCom", who was responsible for dispatching the private ambulance services) expanded their facility on Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach
and started handling dispatch functions for the newly created department. This facility was renamed the "Alarm Office". Initially, a firefighter
would be stationed at the "Alarm Office" to give pre-arrival instructions to callers that needed them. With the introduction of Emergency Medical Dispatch
certifications, Fire-Rescue purchased a license to use the "Medical Priority system and certified all of their dispatchers as "Emergency Medical Dispatchers", a certification given after a 16 hour class is given on using their system. The system utilized a "flip-file" where the dispatcher would go to certain marked cards in the file based on the answers given by the caller to some standardized questions. Instructions would be given to the caller directly from the card. Around 2000 Fire-Rescue dispatch moved from the "Medical Priority" system to the APCO EMD Program
Fire-Rescue is still currently using the [APCO
system. Response determinants are not used in the current system.
Current EMS Zones
- Zone 1 - Atlantic Ocean west to Florida's Turnpike, Martin County south to 45th Street, and Florida's Turnpike west to the mid-county line (20-mile bend), Martin County south to Hypoluxo Road.
- Zone 2 - Atlantic Ocean west to Florida's Turnpike, 45th Street south to the Broward County Line, and Florida's Turnpike west to the mid-county line (20-mile bend), Hypoluxo Road south to the Broward County line.
- Zone 3 - (no longer used)
- Zone 4 - All of Palm Beach County west of the mid-county line (20-mile bend).
Notes and References