A representative of the Kansas City, Kansas, firefighters union on Monday night told a Unified Government committee that many of the city’s fire stations are not even livable.
Robert Wing, business manager for the International Association of Firefighters, Local 64, said he was concerned about the conditions of the fire stations as well as the staffing for the new Piper fire station.
The firefighters’ labor agreement stated that the firefighters were to be part of a joint labor-management process to analyze the Fire Department that includes input on station locations, new stations, renovations, expansion, closures, staffing, apparatus, response time and safety, Wing said.
Wing said the firefighters received notification from fire staff that City Hall wanted a recommendation on what the committee would recommend about moving an existing fire apparatus from the urban core, inside the city, to the new Piper fire station under construction.
He said he took exception to the request because it undermined the committee’s work.
“Our charge was to analyze, through data compiled over a number of years, that we have disseminated to all the commissioners at this point, we utilize to make this decision and recommendation to you,” he said.
“We took exception to that,” Wing said. “It undermined our work. It’s not the first time City Hall has interfered in this committee’s work.”
He said this committee was charged to bring its recommendation to the elected officials, not to the administration. The recommendatons are on what is needed to improve fire service in Kansas City, Kansas, he said.
There was a full committee discussion about staffing Station 12, Wing said. Without dissent, the committee recommended that Station 12 should be staffed with a newly created company, with no fire company moved from the east side of the city, he said. No data in their research supports any movement from the east side to the west side of the city, he added.
None of the commissioners has supported a reduction in service in their districts by moving personnel and equipment from an eastern station to a western fire station, according to Wing.
“They’re there for a reason, and were put there with the safety of residents and firefighters in mind,” he said.
Wing also emphasized that the condition of fire stations in Kansas City, Kansas, needs work.
Fifteen of the 18 fire stations do not meet the city’s codes, he said.
He mentioned mold found in an Argentine fire station, which is a health risk to firefighters as well as anyone who comes into the station.
He also mentioned animals living in an attic in a fire station at 51st and Gibbs Road.
“I don’t think it’s funny at all,” Wing said. “Those animals carry diseases and it’s a shame when it had to surface when they came crashing through the ceiling of the eating area in the middle of the night, and the firefighters had to corral them.”
He also said the fire station at 78th and Kansas is structurally unfit and is to the point where it could collapse.
Wing also said something as minor as the retaining wall at a fire station at 81st and Leavenworth Road should have been repaired many years ago and is an eyesore. If it was on private property, code enforcement would be out there citing them to get that wall repaired, he said.
He said there are many more problems in the fire stations.
“I have witnessed, the last week to 10 days, the interest in the ballpark out there – the funds that are coming forward that could be identified to take care of the issue out there,” he said.
He said he thinks the ballpark is an asset for the community that should be preserved. But as funds are identified quickly to make sure the baseball team and stadium are kept and improved, when at the same time 15 of 18 existing fire stations don’t meet code, he thinks it is “embarrassing at best.”
“This is due to an administration that has underfunded and under-resourced the fire department for a period of years. And I as a taxpayer and an individual and a union official think it’s time we collectively start taking these issues up and finding some resolve for them,” Wing said.
The joint labor-management committee was being bypassed by another recommendation that was sent to commissioners, according to Wing. A new firehouse built in a park on the south side is not a recommendation by the committee, he said, and the committee should be making the recommendation. The committee would make a recommendation that is good for the district as a whole, he said.
Commissioner Mike Kane asked about pending grievances, and Wing responded that he was still waiting for them to be resolved. They concerned funding and payments to firefighters, he said.
Also still pending are labor board charges regarding bad faith bargaining, that may be close to being resolved, he said. Wing said he will not bargain until these previous charges are resolved, which is the usual procedure in bargaining. He said the union has sent a response to the administrator’s office that has been there for several weeks, that has not yet been responded to. An arbitration session is scheduled with the administration on Tuesday, he said.
“Reasonable people doing reasonable things” would resolve the issues, he said.
UG officials who were attending the meeting did not make a statement on the specifics of Wing’s remarks at this meeting.
UG commissioners on the committee said they were looking forward to having another meeting in the future with Wing, administrators and Fire Department administration present.
Wing appeared at the UG’s Public Works and Safety Committee meeting on Monday night at City Hall.
A video of the meeting is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41WPHeBsdDA.