Fire district blames poor funding for response to Immokalee death

A man died in Immokalee this past weekend, and neighbors said his body stayed in a tree for two hours. Firefighters were unable to get to him because the department recently sold its last ladder truck. Budgeting is being blamed for the lack of resources for the first responders.

Immokalee Fire Control District told WINK News it is doing what it can with the money it has Monday.

“It’s sad, and you would always hope to have the equipment and never have to use it,” neighbor Maria Sierra said. “But we didn’t even have it, and we did need it.”

Firefighters who responded to the scene needed a ladder truck to get 36-year-old Esteban Antonio down from a tree after he accidentally injured himself with a chainsaw. Antonio eventually died from his injures and remained in the tree he had been removing branches from for hours afterward.

MORE: Collier sheriff’s deputies confirm man died using chainsaw in Immokalee

“This gentleman, whatever his circumstances were, he passed away,” Sierra said. “But he hung in that tree for a prolonged period of time. People saw this; children saw this.”

The fire district sold its only ladder truck in 2018 because it could not afford to keep it. It potentially could have prevented the death of Antonio.

“They were in a situation where they couldn’t do much,” Deputy Chief Thomas Cunnigham said. “They had to sit around and wait, and that goes against every fiber in a fireman’s body.”

The district had to call other agencies to get a ladder. WINK News was told even if the district had its own truck, they don’t have staff who would have been able to operate it.

“We’re behind in so many ways,” Cunnigham said. “And that all stems from funding. It’s a shoestring budget.”

Residents in Immokalee denied a proposed budget for the fire district last year. Part of the budget was a newly proposed fire fee.

The fire district said it will continue to cut costs where it can and provide the best service possible. The district said it could propose a new fire fee in the future.

The district admitted it’s already below national standards. It does not have enough personnel or equipment. They continue to have no money to fix it.

“Everybody at one point will point fingers,” Cunnigham said. “It’s their fault; it’s their fault. No, it’s the community’s fault. We need to stop look at this and put in perspective.”


Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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