BAY LAKE, FLORIDA — According to firefighters at the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney put lives in danger by ignoring public safety as it expanded its kingdom in Florida. Members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) – the new board appointed by the governor – told The Florida Standard that emergency services took a back seat in Disney’s master development plans.
“Disney would run our trucks until the wheels were falling off, and often they would not start when responding to calls,” Jon Shirey, President of the Reedy Creek Professional Firefighters Union told The Florida Standard.
“And then they would be like, okay, I guess we need to buy a truck now. Those are things that most cities and counties take into account when they’re doing their annual budgets.”
DANGEROUSLY LONG RESPONSE TIMES
Part of Disney’s comprehensive ten-year plan, which became effective in October 2010, includes the development of a western corridor called Flamingo Crossing that lacks a fire station. Shirey tells the Florida Standard the site plan should have included one.
Shirey says the closest fire station is fire station No. 2, which primarily covers Animal Kingdom and the surrounding resorts. Responding to a call at Flamingo Crossing takes around 10 minutes – with no traffic – according to Shirey, but can be longer than 15 minutes during rush hour when the road is congested.
“We tend to have very, very long response times out there. That’s so dangerous because, during a cardiac arrest, the brain starts to die without oxygen after four to six minutes,” Shirey said. “It’s pretty obvious what your outcome will be at that point. We’re just going there for show.”
SELF-APPROVAL OF PLANS
Disney had the power to approve its own development plans, unlike other developers who must go through local government permitting and approval processes. Now, CFTOD board members are asking why corners were cut on public safety for a district that services close to 170,000 people per day along with 77,000 Disney employees.
According to the Firefighters Union, Disney has not increased its firefighter staffing since 1989. In more than thirty years since then, Walt Disney World has expanded to include Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, Flamingo Crossing and more.
With so much money directed toward development, why has the district relied so heavily on outside fire departments in Orange and Osceola counties? Union firefighters say the help is needed, but those departments are not familiar with precise locations within Walt Disney World, often causing delays in response time.
In 2021, union firefighters told The Orlando Sentinel: “If there is a big event, we’re not even remotely close to being able to handle it on our own.”