It was clear at Tuesday’s St. Cloud Main Street Breakfast with the Pros, that the two men charged with keeping the St. Cloud community safe, St. Cloud Police Chief Douglas Goerke, and St. Cloud Fire Department Chief Jason Miller, are hard at work building teams, improving systems and technology, and planning for the future, while leading with positivity and passion for staff and community.
It’s no secret that St. Cloud, and Osceola County as a whole, are experiencing rapid growth. Osceola County has seen a growth rate of 2.91% over the past year according to the most recent United States census data, making it the 15th largest county in Florida. With that kind of growth comes many challenges, challenges that often fall into the areas of law enforcement and fire rescue.
St. Cloud Main Street’s Breakfast with the Pros gave both leaders an opportunity to update the community about their agencies, and how they are currently working to ‘stay ahead’ of St. Cloud’s growth.
“Last year we had over 100,000 calls of service, and you think, St. Cloud is a small town – small community, but it’s not anymore, it’s growing very quickly. The calls for service from the Police Department is growing. In 2021, our calls for service were about 95,000, so we’re growing at about a 5% rate. As city grows it’s probably going to go up even more, and that’s going to cause a strain on our police department” Chief Goerke shared with the audience on Tuesday.
Before coming to St. Cloud nearly a year ago, his one-year anniversary being this February 1, Goerke had been with OPD for 20 years, starting as an officer and working his way through the ranks. Before being assigned as Patrol Division commander, Goerke served for a year as the Director of Airport Police Services for OPD. He also was a deputy chief of police for a year.
Goerke holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Liberty University and a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University.
The chief, who also took questions during the discussion, shared that all the schools in St. Cloud currently have sworn School Resource Officers, and are linked by cameras to St. Cloud PD’s Real Time Intelligence Center. They are currently working with the three Charter Schools to link them to the system as well.
Chief Goerke also shared that they have been updating their body cams, which he says were aging and failing, in order to better serve the community and the officers that wear them.
“We moved to a brand new system called Axon, one of the foremost providers of law enforcement safety equipment, so we got the brand new Axon Body 3s, thanks to our city council and city manager, Goerke said. “It’s very very important.”
According to the chief, his agency will soon be implementing a new virtual crime center, that will focus on improving the level of training St. Cloud’s Police Officers receive.
The Chief also mention his agency’s belief in community outreach and community policing, citing events like Coffee with. Cop, Hopkins Park Kickball water gun and balloon fights, summer camp movies, and even a wings with the cop event.
After Chief Goerke took questions from the breakfast attendees, St. Cloud Fire Department Chief Jason Miller stepped up to address the crowd. He explained that St. Cloud Fire Rescue functions with three shifts, A, B, and C, 24/7 running out of three stations with fire engines, fire rescues, and like many organizations and businesses around the state and throughout the country, they are in need of help.
St. Cloud Fire Rescue currently sees an average of 25 service calls a day, most being fire-related, EMS-related, auto accidents, hazardous materials calls, brush fires, and occasionally the removal of a duck from a city sewer. Chief Miller also said that he feels, that with the growth coming to our community, he will likely need to hire 63 fire fighters in the next 5 years, and given the current challenge with finding new employees, that’s going to be, as he put it, “a heavy lift.” That’s certainly not some specific to St. Cloud, as there is a shortage of firefighters all of Central Florida.
If there is a shortage in people wanting to work for St. Cloud Fire Rescue, it’s likely not because Chief Miller and his team aren’t taking the message to the community. They participate in every community-based event they can. Positively Osceola will attest to that fact. And that’s not where the education begins.
St. Cloud Fire Rescue visited schools and educated over 9000 4, 5, and 6 year-olds, helping them to better understand fire-safety and what to do if they are ever involved in a fire.
Chief Miller explained that, “the fire rescue delivery model that we currently run in the City of St. Cloud, and the engine rescue concept is something I’m looking to change in the future. I’m looking at doing peak activity units, which will allow us to determine the highest call volume of the day, and we either hire extra for that, or through overtime, or you hire personnel that work on a different shift schedule.”
The hope, according to Chief Miller is that the system would not only take pressure off the normal 24/7 shifts, but also the use of mutual aid, (other local fire agencies), which currently assists St. Cloud Fire Rescue with about 10% of of its service needs. St. Cloud also provides mutual aid when needed to other local agencies.
When asked how St. Cloud Fire Rescue will obtain property for future fire stations that will become necessary as more and more land is purchased and developed in the St. Cloud community Miller answered, “we’re looking pretty good. When the big developers come in for large pieces of land, we’re already ahead of the curve, we’re already at the table and ready.”
Chief Miller closed by saying that the men and women with St. Cloud Fire Rescue love to hear that they’re appreciated, and that a simple thank you goes a long way.
That sounds like an easy way to make sure our fire rescue and police department know that we have their backs, and that we realize they have husbands, wives, and children that they leave every day, to protect and serve people they don’t even know, and they do it because they care, and it’s their job, and it’s who they are in their lives, and we thank each and every one of them. Please join Positively Osceola in letting these outstanding men and women that we thank them, and appreciate them all.