Fire, Police Chiefs Discuss Challenges of Pandemic

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During last week’s virtual work session of the Winter Park City Commission, City Manager Randy Knight provided an overview of the financial impact of COVID-19 and budgetary challenges ahead. Along with other department heads, both Fire Chief Dan Hagedorn and Police Chief Michael Deal shared observations from two large components of their respective city operations.

Both chiefs described challenging days in the wake of COVID-19. Chief Hagedorn shared a 40-50 percent decrease in call volumes in March and April as more residents stayed at home but explained that the virus has presented new cost considerations in the fire department due to the use of more personal protective equipment (PPE) and escalated sanitation requirements. “It’s an ever-challenging environment to provide the services we do,” Hagedorn explained. The chief also reminded commissioners that members of the department sleep and eat in close quarters, making social distancing an ever-present task. Interacting with the public on calls, often under duress, also presents challenges for front-line first responders.

Chief Hagedorn shared details on a $320,000 upgrade to the fire station’s alerting system. The current system, which is 18 years old, uses older technology and updates, and spare parts are limited. The new system is estimated to save approximately 30-60 seconds in average emergency response time.

Police Chief Deal shared an update on the Winter Park Police Department, which has been challenged both by the pandemic and pressure from the public in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota. Multiple protests took place in Winter Park during the weeks following Floyd’s death.

Chief Deal cited several challenges created by the pandemic, including the inability to train, the inability to hold neighborhood advisory committee meetings, and risks presented to officers responding to calls for service. The police department has also had difficulty filling vacant officer positions because of police academy closures. Deal also explained that Winter Park is seeing an increase in thefts and domestic violence incidents because “people are forced to stay home.” Chief Deal did note that crime rates have significantly decreased since 2012, including burglaries, which are trending towards a nearly 50 percent decrease. The budget process will continue in the upcoming months as City Manager Knight seeks approval in September prior to the start of the 2021 fiscal year, which begins on October 1, 2020.

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