Siesta Seen

Fire chief addresses Station 13 action in regard to hurricane; about 85% of Fire Department calls on Key EMS-related; Condo Council announces paid beach parking survey results; Siesta Beach falls to No. 2 on TripAdvisor list; residents asks whether Key can get more Code Enforcement officers; City of Sarasota pays most of December 2017 Big Pass legal bill from Lido residents’ counsel; north Siesta lift station to get permanent generator; Make Siesta Drive Safer achieving improvements; Positive RePercussions to offer group drumming therapy; and Siesta Chamber hires new promotion and event coordinator

Fire Station 13 is located at 1170 Beach Road. Image from Google Maps

During the Feb. 20 Siesta Key Condominium Council meeting — with Sarasota County Fire Chief Mike Regnier and County Commissioner Alan Maio as special guests — Mark Smith, immediate past chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, addressed a bit of a different topic during the Q&A session.

Smith first pointed out that Fire Station 13, which stands next to Siesta Key Public Beach, “is an older structure that is vulnerable to storm surge and damage.” During the approach of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, Smith asked, “Were the fire engines taken off the island?” He acknowledged that Sarasota County Emergency Management personnel had ordered an evacuation of the Key, with the hurricane’s storm surge predicted to be 8 to 10 feet.

Before Regnier could respond, Smith added that he felt the County Commission should be able to “find some money for that station to be storm-hardened …”

Maio had noted earlier during his remarks that the county has constructed four new fire stations since he joined the board in November 2014, and it has three more planned in the next few years.

“We did take the units off the island,” Regnier told Smith; they were moved to hardened facilities “at the last minute,” after the island evacuation was to have been completed.

Fire Chief Mike Regnier. Rachel Hackney photo

Regnier also explained that he and his staff continuously evaluate all the 28 fire stations in the county to determine which should have top priority for rebuilding. In ranking those priorities, he continued, one factor he and his staff have to take into consideration is the potential for impact fees to help cover the costs of new construction in areas where new development is occurring.

Fire Station 13 dates to 1973, Regnier noted. “It is not hardened,” and it is in a hurricane surge zone. “It will be underwater if a storm comes …” In fact, Regnier acknowledged, if Irma had struck with the force forecasters had predicted, the structure most likely would have been destroyed.

“I don’t have an answer for you as to when we are going to rebuild that fire station,” he added.

Maio drew some laughter from audience members when he said, “I would suggest, Chief, that you don’t retire before I get re-elected, because that was a wonderful answer, and I don’t want to be running against you.”

Maio emphasized the need for the county to use impact fees to help pay for new fire stations. And that money, he pointed out, is “not always enough” to cover the full cost.

Still, Maio said, I will never turn down the sheriff or the fire chief for anything they ask for.”

Maio also told the audience of about 35 people that even if a new, storm-hardened station were constructed on Siesta, the equipment still would be moved off the island, he believed, before a hurricane was expected to strike. Regnier confirmed that.

Speaking of the fire station …

Prior to Maio’s “state of the county” address to the Condo Council members on Feb. 20, Fire Chief Mike Regnier took a few minutes to talk about the 2017 statistics for Fire Station 13.

“Thank you all for your support for what you do for the Fire Department,” Regnier began.

He spent two years as part of the crew for Fire Station 13 next to the beach, he continued. When he was told he was going to be promoted, but he would have to move to a different station, he not so jokingly added that he had to give that a lot of thought. “It was very difficult to leave,” he told the audience. “People are very, very friendly [on the island].”

As for the work of the department: One of the first questions he gets when he makes public remarks, Regnier pointed out, is why a fire engine rolls with a rescue unit in response to a medical call. “The thing about the Fire Department [in Sarasota County] is you get the best of both [services]. … You get a bang for your buck.”

All county firefighters are cross-trained either as emergency medical technicians or paramedics, Regnier explained. Therefore, when both a fire engine and rescue unit respond, personnel can handle all of the necessary steps to take care of someone quickly. “That does not happen in all departments across the United States,” he stressed.

(From left) Siesta Key Condo Council President Frank Jurenka, County Commissioner Alan Maio, Fire Chief Mike Regnier and Condo Council Vice President Diane Erne participate in the Feb. 20 meeting. Rachel Hackney photo

In fact, he continued, he grew up in Chicago, and his dad was a firefighter. When a car once struck Regnier’s sister, he said, the family had to wait 25 minutes for a rescue unit to arrive, even though a fire engine was a short distance away. When Regnier asked his dad why the firefighters did not respond first, his dad explained to him that the two services were “not affiliated with each other.”

Regnier then noted the Sarasota County Fire Department’s appreciation of the Siesta Key Fire and Rescue Advisory Council’s recent donation of an ATV that can be used for medical emergencies on the beach. Prior to having that equipment available, Regnier said, first responders had no choice but to go to the beach access closest to the location of an incident and then carry equipment onto the beach and bring an injured person back out to a rescue unit via that same beach access.

The Polaris ATV, he said, carries a stretcher and other equipment.

Moving on to the statistics for 2017, Regnier told the audience, “Siesta is supposed to be the quiet, lazy [place],” eliciting laughter. “It is quite busy, for emergency calls.”

In 2017, Siesta was the location of 1,728 incidents out of 65,579 countywide for the Fire Department, he noted. Of those, 1,339 — about 85% — were related to medical emergencies, with 105 involving an ill or unconscious person at the beach and 61 related to motor vehicle crashes.

The sun, he indicated, is the source of many of the medical calls. People unused to the intensity of the sun — especially in the summertime — often get dehydrated, and some end up with heat exhaustion and even heatstroke. As a parent, he added, he reminds his own children about using sunscreen and drinking plenty of fluids, but people on the beach often forget to do that.

On the key, he continued, 389 incidents were fire-related, with 14 structural fires reported. Regnier explained that in some cases, what might be logged as a structural fire by a 911 operator can turn out to be a situation in which someone has dropped a cigarette that has smoldered, producing a lot of smoke in a dwelling unit.

The statistics also showed 57 elevator rescues; 55 water rescues — 38 of which were at beach accesses; 146 fire alarms; and 13 incidents involving hazardous materials. The latter, he noted, often pertain to gas leaks.

Sarasota County has 28 fire stations. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

Countywide, Regnier pointed out, the total number of calls has been going up 8% to 10% a year, but Siesta has not experienced that much of an increase.

The month in 2017 with the highest number of responses from Fire Station 13 was March, with 229, Regnier’s statistics showed. January was in second place, with 194. The slowest month? October, with 139 responses.

It takes about 6 minutes for the Fire Department to respond to a call on the Key, he continued. “You call 911, the clock starts ticking. … We’re pretty proud of that.”

Immediately after the equipment is sent out, he said, the dispatcher asks questions to glean more information from the caller. For example, in a medical emergency, the dispatcher will ask if the person is breathing. Is the person conscious? Depending upon the answers, additional units may be sent to the location, he added; conversely, some units may return to the station because they will not be needed.

The Fire Department also provides educational sessions and offers fire prevention information to residents and visitors, Regnier noted. “We have a lot of turnover” among residents on Siesta Key, he said, so firefighters “try very hard” to educate the newcomers.

Beach paid parking survey

On Feb. 21, lots of vehicles are parked at Siesta Public Beach just after the ‘sunset show.’ Rachel Hackney photo

Having received 279 responses to its latest survey of members, the Siesta Key Condominium Council has found that 80.9% of respondents support a paid parking program at Siesta Public Beach, comparable to those in other beach communities. However, the Condo Council’s focus is payments from people who are not county property owners.

Additionally, 75.9% of the respondents said they believe every Sarasota County property owner should be allowed to park for free at the beach.

Finally, in response to the question, “Should all monies collected from the parking be used only on Siesta Key?” 90.3% of the respondents marked “Yes.”

The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce is surveying its members, as well, using questions very similar to those chosen by the Condo Council, Immediate Past Chair Mark Smith announced on Feb. 21 during the Chamber’s quarterly meeting for members.

Executive Director Ann Frescura said the responses were due by early March.

Siesta falls to No. 2 on TripAdvisor list

People gather at Siesta Public Beach for sunset on Feb. 21. Rachel Hackney photo

Having held the top spot on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards list for U.S. beaches in 2017, Siesta fell to No. 2 this year, the internet-based service announced.

Clearwater was No. 1, while South Beach in Miami Beach was No. 4; Fort Lauderdale Beach was No. 6; St. Pete Beach was No. 7; and Hollywood Beach was No. 8.

Beaches in Hawaii took the No. 3, No. 5 and No. 10 spots, with Santa Monica State Beach in California rounding out the Top 10 at No. 9.

In its details about Siesta on the latest list, TripAdvisor noted that it had received 6,499 reviews. One five-star comment from a Bradenton Beach resident said, “My husband I and took my sister (who was on vacation) to Siesta Key Beach. It was over 10 years ago since the last time I was there. The beach was still beautiful. It was nice to see the upgrades/renovations. We always recommend this beach to visitors.”

Another five-star rating — this one from a person who lives in Northborough, Mass. — said, “Siesta beach is the best there is by a million white sand miles. Walking out onto the beach you are literally transported to somewhere tropical.” That writer also noted the “awesome playground and a great snack bar.”

Yet another five-star review — this one from a Midwesterner — said, “Every time I go to Florida I find a new favorite beach but it will be really hard to top Siesta Beach.”

A visitor from Hungary wrote, “Beautiful white sand, clean environment, wonderful sunsets.”

It was not until the sixth page in on Feb. 23, as the News Leader read TripAdvisor’s latest reviews, that the News Leader found a comment giving Siesta a single star. “NO PARKING” was the heading. “Can’t play on a beach if you can’t park.” That was written on Feb. 6, the Arizona resident noted — a weekday. “We drove through multiple parking lots for an hour” but failed to find a space,” the review added.

TripAdvisor has 10 comments per page on its website.

More Code Enforcement officers?

The houses at 547 and 551 Beach Road (from left) are advertised as being able to sleep up to 24 people. File photo

During the Q&A part of the Feb. 20 Condo Council meeting, Margaret Jean Cannon asked County Commissioner Alan Maio, “Are we going to get more Code Enforcement [officers on the island]?”

She told him what she has pointed out during Siesta Key Association (SKA) meetings: The two new, multi-story, multi-family units across Beach Road from her condominium have a lot of turnover in guests, which leads to garbage piling up for days before Waste Management makes its weekly rounds for collections.

“I send Code Enforcement a note probably at least once a week,” Cannon said, referring to that situation.

Maio asked her to send him an email, which he then would direct to the appropriate county staff for a response. That way, he said, he would get to see the answer, just as she would.

That might seem like a curt response to her, he added, but that is the best way to make sure she sees the correct answer.

“I do that 20 times a week,” Maio said of his referral of constituent questions to county staff.

During the Feb. 1 SKA meeting, Susan Stahley, the county Code Enforcement officer assigned to the Key, talked of her constant efforts to prevent illegal home rentals in areas designated for single-family homes. However, Stahley asked members of that organization to let her know about any problems, saying she would do her best to respond to them.

It all adds up

City Attorney Robert Fournier. File photo

Regular News Leader readers may have seen the Feb. 9 article about the legal fees the parties have incurred in the fight over whether Big Sarasota Pass can be dredged to renourish South Lido Key Beach.

In that report, the News Leader noted Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier’s comment that the city had agreed to cover some of the expenses of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), as that organization was allowed to intervene in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) case involving the Siesta Key Association, Save Our Siesta Sand 2, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the city.

Fournier told the News Leader in February that city staff had not had the opportunity to determine how much of the December 2017 statement the city would pay to the Bradenton firm of Lewis, Longman & Walker, which is representing the LKRA.

On Feb. 20, Fournier was able to provide a follow-up on that last bill. It turns out the city agreed to pay $72,926.55. That reflected $70,596.50 in approved attorneys’ fees and $2,330.05 in associated costs, Fournier wrote in his email.

The December 2017 statement included $139,087.49 for attorneys’ fees. Fournier said the firm charges an hourly rate of $425 for its senior counsel.

The figure the city paid for the associated costs was what Lewis, Longman & Walker had billed.

Those latest figures put the total expenses for the legal challenges close to the $1 million mark.

A permanent generator for Siesta lift station

A graphic shows the planned location of the permanent generator at the City of Sarasota lift station on Norsota Way. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Under the terms of a consent order with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the City of Sarasota will be installing permanent generators at five of its sewer lift stations.

One of those sites is near the intersection of Norsota Way and Siesta Drive, just west of the city’s portion of Nora Patterson Bay Island Park.

The consent order resulted from the spillage of an unknown quantity of untreated wastewater as a result of the rain from Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Make Siesta Drive Safer making progress

People who drive regularly on Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue may have taken note of the restriping the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has completed in the bad curve on that stretch of road.

In response to questions from the News Leader regarding that work and other improvements on the road, FDOT Government Affairs and Communications Manager Zachary Burch wrote in a Feb. 14 email that the new striping [was undertaken] to better define the Higel [Avenue]/Siesta [Drive] intersection.” However, he continued, the department does not plan to install flexible Qwick Kurb posts as another means of keeping drivers in their lanes as they move through that curve.

“We will continue to monitor the intersection to ensure the effectiveness of the changes” FDOT has made, Burch added in his email.

A graphic shows plans for restriping at the Siesta Drive/Higel Avenue intersection, which has been completed. Image courtesy Bay Island Siesta Association

Among other improvements are new signs to alert drivers to the curve and radar signs stressing that motorists should slow to 25 mph before entering the curve, if they are moving faster than that speed.

During a January Make Siesta Drive Safer presentation to Siesta Key Association members, Pat Wulf, president of the Bay Island Siesta Neighborhood Association noted that the installation of the Qwick Kurb posts was a measure FDOT also was considering.

The Make Siesta Drive Safer committee of the Bay Island Siesta Neighborhood Association was organized almost exactly 11 months ago to push for improvements to make State Road 758 safer for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians between South Osprey Avenue and Ocean Boulevard. Members especially have been focused on the Higel/Siesta curve.

Positive RePercussions™ to open in Siesta Key Village

Positive RePercussions will be opening its doors this month in Siesta Village. Contributed photo

Positive RePercussions™ LLC will open a new rhythm boutique — a recreational music-making, and group drumming center — in Siesta Village in March, the company has announced.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be conducted on March 8 by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, a press release says. Then, on Friday, March 9, a grand opening celebration from 6 to 8:30 p.m. will include food, drinks and prizes.

“Positive RePercussions believes that music should be not only valued as a form of entertainment but also as a vehicle for positive change,” the release explains. The company uses the “power of music and rhythm to produce non-musical outcomes, by delivering research-based, high-quality, interactive, events and activities,” the release continues. The “non-threatening, interactive, hands-on activities encourage cooperation, communication, and wellness, through creative self-expression,” the release points out.

Positive RePercussions — which has recently relocated from Austin, Texas — has been providing “evidence-based group drumming programs in numerous schools, libraries, recreational centers, after-school programs and retirement/assisted living facilities since 2007,” the release notes. The new group drumming center will be located at 5049 Ocean Blvd. in Siesta Village on Siesta Key.

Rhythm-based programs have been shown to do the following, the release explains:

  • Increase ability to focus and to stay “on task.”
  • Develop self-awareness.
  • Develop motor skills.
  • Improve listening skills.
  • Improve self-control, patience and cooperation.
  • Reduce anxiety and depression.
Group drumming sessions will be scheduled. Contributed photo

Positive RePercussions believes that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the power of active music making, so it has created the space “to bring DRUMMING FUN FOR EVERYONE!!!™” the release adds.

Group drumming programs and classes will be offered throughout the week, the release says. No musical experience is necessary, the release stresses.

Additionally, Positive RePercussions will have “a wonderfully curated selection of fine hand drums and percussion instruments for sale,” the release notes.

For more information and a complete schedule, visit, email or call 677-3786.

Chamber welcomes new promotion and event coordinator

Rachel Dixon. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

Rachel Dixon will join the staff of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce as the new promotion and event coordinator, beginning March 5, Executive Director Ann Frescura has announced.

Dixon has been working in the hospitality industry since 2009, a Chamber news release says. “She transitioned into event planning at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee’s Culinary Innovation Lab, and gained professional wedding management experience at NK Productions,” the release notes. A Florida native, Dixon graduated with honors from the University of South Florida, earning a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, the release adds. She “lives in Port Charlotte with her dog, Bailey, and cat, Marley,” the release says.