Fire study calls for 5 percent cutback in personnel, consolidation of four stations, and more funding for facilities and equipment

A 5 percent cutback in personnel, the consolidation of four stations, and more money for facilities and equipment were among the recommendations of a fire study by outside consultants.

The study by Facets Consulting was presented at a Unified Government special session at 5 p.m. Oct. 15 at City Hall. It was shortly after the death of two firefighters in Kansas City, Mo., a fact that was noted by comments and prayers at the meeting.

The study also recommended two new fire stations to be built in the Piper area, on the west side of Kansas City, Kan.

The consultants stated that much of the Fire Department’s stations and equipment needed upgrading.

Mayor Mark Holland asked for a study of the public safety departments when the city passed an increase in taxes for public safety. More than 60 percent of the budget is spent on public safety, he said. Major decisions need to be based on safety and well-thought-out review of operations, he said. An agreement was included in the 2013 union contract to do this study, he said.

From 2006 to 2013, the Fire Department increased its budget about 34 percent, he said, while the Police Department increased 14.7 percent and the Sheriff’s Department increased 54.7 percent.

All non-public safety employees civilian positions were decreased 21.7 percent, while public safety increased 9.6 percent during that time, he said.

“My concern is the greatest threat to public safety in our community is running out of money to fund it adequately,” he said.

UG Administrator Doug Bach said the next step is developing a strategic plan with benchmarks that will be brought back to the UG Commission for adoption. The consultant will help in working with an implementation team of labor, fire administration and county administrator to put together the implementation plan of 60 to 90 days, Bach said. Then the strategic plan would be built during the first quarter of 2016, and it would come back to the UG Commission.

Some items in the plan could be accomplished quickly while other items, such as facilities, may take longer, he said.

The 5 percent cutback in personnel would come about through attrition and retirements, according to Mayor Holland, not through layoffs.

The consultants stated the current staffing ratio of 4.1 was too high, and that some other cities are staffed at 3.5. The ratio is the number of full-time firefighters the department needs to employ to staff one position around the clock, for three shifts.

Commissioner Mike Kane raised questions about whether the Fairfax fire station should be consolidated and moved to 9th and Quindaro. Fairfax has thousands of employees, and there are injuries every day in Fairfax, he said.

Commissioner Ann Murguia raised a similar question about whether a station close to the University of Kansas Hospital and the University of Kansas Medical Center, with 10,500 employees in those two facilities, should lose some of its personnel or equipment.

The fire study presentation left a lot of questions for commissioners, some of whom said they did not receive the study soon enough to go over it before the meeting. Commissioner Kane said the union should have received the entire study before the Thursday night meeting, instead of a short bullet-point outline. “We have to have the union involved,” he said.

He also said the businesses need to be involved with these plans.

Kane also thought the Kansas City, Kan., Fire Department should be combined with Bonner Springs and Edwardsville to give better fire coverage in Wyandotte County.

One of the unanswered questions was exactly where newly consolidated fire stations would be located. Such decisions could partly be based on the ability of the government to fund a new station. Those questions were partly left unanswered and could be the subject of future discussions.

The study stated that fire station coverage in the east part of the county was dense, while coverage in the western party of the county was too light.

It proposed taking some personnel from the consolidated stations and redeploying them to make sure all aerials, quints and ladder trucks were four-person crews. Pumpers are staffed at three persons, and are proposed to be staffed at four.

Three safety officers at each fire station would be reduced to one, and the other two reallocated to other duties, according to consultants. This idea met with questioning from Kane, who favored more safety officers. Consultants said they wanted more safety level training to the command officers.

The study proposed redeployment of some resources from Fire Station 10, at 2210 W. 36th, which is the second newest fire station in Kansas City, Kan., serving the southeast corner of the city. It is close to the University of Kansas Hospital and Rosedale Middle School. Because it is close to the state and county line, it doesn’t need as many personnel as it has, the consultants believe. The quint would continue to be stationed there, but the pumper could be reassigned, according to the consultants.

The consultants talked about the possibility of making agreements with nearby communities for coverage near county boundaries.

The four fire stations proposed to be consolidated, in a possible modification:

Fire Station 3, at 420 Kansas Ave., and Fire Station 7, at 2717 Strong Ave., would be consolidated to a new hub facility in the area near 18th Street and Kansas Avenue. The Quint, ambulance and aerial ladder would be redeployed to the hub station, and some of Fire Station 7’s crew would be redeployed to create four-person crews at needed stations.

Fire Station 16, at 1437 S. 55th, and Fire Station 17, at 2416 S. 51st, would be consolidated to a new hub facility in the area near South 55th between Metropolitan Avenue and Oak Grove Road. One pumper and crew would be redeployed to the hub station, one ambulance and crew to a selected location, and some of the Station 16 crew redeployed to create four-person crews at needed stations.

Fire Station 11, at 31st and State, and Fire Station 14, at 2615 N. 27th, would be consolidated to a new hub facility near Wood Avenue and 27th Street. One pumper and aerial ladder would be redeployed to the new hub station, and some of Station 11’s crew would be redeployed to create four-person crews at needed stations.

Fire Station 5, near 9th and Quindaro, and Fire Station 15, at 444 Kindleberger, would be redeployed to a new hub station at or near the existing Station 5 location near 9th and Quindaro. One pumper and crew would be redeployed to the new hub station, and the ambulance to a selected location. Some of the crew of Station 15 would be redeployed to create four-person crews at needed stations.

A new fire station was proposed near Hollingsworth between 115th and 107th in an area that is underserved, according to the study.

Another addition is proposed at 99th and Donahoo Road to provide service to an underserved area.

The consultants also recommended a decentralized management structure, with not all decisions being made by the fire chief. Some decisions would be made by Fire Department managers, under this plan, while the fire chief would provide executive leadership. The UG’s Human Resources Department would have a greater role in personnel decisions in the Fire Department, under one recommendation.

Another recommendation was that it could do better at bill collecting. The UG is paying the provider 7 percent while other communities may be paying 3 or 4 percent. A better collection rate, for example of 75 percent, could mean a couple of more millions a year in revenue, according to consultants.

No decisions were made at the special session. Mayor Holland said specific proposals based on the recommendations would come back to the commission later for approval.

Chief John Paul Jones, addressing the commission, said his first priority was safety, and that the department was already working on implementation of rewriting the incident command manual, taking mayday procedures to another level and the accountability system on the scene. He said these would involve participation at all levels including committee process and labor-management process.

“Safety is No. 1,” Chief Jones said. “The men and women of the Kansas City, Kan., Fire Department operate on an extremely high level. Job one is to keep this community safe, and we’re dedicated to it, and my job is also to keep these firefighters safe, and I’m dedicated to that.”

Bob Wing, of the International Association of Firefighters said the report was long overdue and long awaited.

He said the way the Fire Department operates today was arranged some years ago by former UG Administrator Dennis Hays, a former fire chief and the union, and it was recognized as a labor-management effort leading to a very productive department.

“The difference in my view,” he said, “is this (the existing operations) was actually put together by people who live in the community, by people who have a vested interest in this community, by people who are taxpayers in this community, by people who work in this community, and by people whose families benefit from the public safety effort of the fire, EMS and law enforcement community that you employ in Wyandotte County, which I think is second to none.

“And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us putting something on the table, and us being a Fire Department being the ones who are compared to instead of us looking at others and comparing to them,” Wing said. “There’s nothing wrong with other communities looking at Kansas City, Kan., and saying, that’s the way they do it, and we ought to look at doing that, because that’s a better way, it gives better service to our citizens and firefighters, and that’s what we’re all about.”

He said he understood the argument of money vs. service. The way the department is today, and the firefighters’ proposal is service-driven, he said.

“We’re not profit-driven,” he said. That was historically a problem in the department, that the department was profit-driven by the government vs. service-driven.

“We will continue that effort and continue to work with you. Some of the things we liked that we heard tonight, we want to be a party of that, and we want to be a party of keeping what we’ve got, but we want to progress,” Wing said.

The full preliminary fire study report, a 73-page document, contains many more recommendations and is on the UG’s website at www.wycokck.org.

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