A conversation with Merv Kennell on Longboat firefighting policies, pay

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Long-time Sarasota County resident Merv Kennell knows one thing thoroughly — firefighting. Kennell has been involved in the fire department and firefighting since 1986 when he started at 16 years of age volunteering at the Fruitville Area Fire Control District. His father was a firefighter and brother was the first state certified paramedic in the region. Kennell currently heads up the International Association of Firefighters as President for the Local 2546, which represents Sarasota, Charlotte and Manatee Counties. He spoke with Longboat Key News at a pre4cient moment; when the Town is in the middle of contract negotiations with its team of firefighters.


What is the perception of Longboat Key in other departments and in the regional firefighting community specifically regarding it’s current salary and benefit package?

I’m disappointed with Longboat Key. It used to be top tier in that they hired at or above the 75th percentile in pay and benefits and wanted seasoned employees. Now, the word is out that it’s the last place to apply. There is an anti-employee sentiment and that is what potential employees are sensitive to.


What is the advantage in a town such as Longboat Key in not consolidating with the county in offering fire services?

By not merging with the county and consolidating, a department such as Longboat Key gets to define its own level of service. In the end, that is the whole point in having your own department. Generally the advantage is you have the ability to exceed the level of service and that remains in your control. Longboat Key was forward thinking in requiring every firefighter to also be certified as a paramedic — that was its own policy. Sarasota County and other departments have shortages of paramedics. It takes an additional 1.5 years in training and evaluation to be certified as a paramedic. More than 90 percent of the calls on Longboat Key as well as Sarasota County are for emergency medical services and less than 10 percent are for fire calls.


 What do you think will happen in the long run when it comes to contract negotiations on Longboat Key?

All it takes is one catastrophe for things to change on Longboat Key, and then the liability meter goes through the roof. Then there will a call to improve the pay and benefits. I hope they come to a better solution than allowing the quality of service or level of of employees to decline.

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