Commissioner says UG ‘dragging its feet’ on new Piper fire station
A new fire station in Piper is still the top priority on the list for building and remodeling Kansas City, Kansas, fire stations, according to a presentation by Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department officials at a special Unified Government session on Thursday, April 5.
Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department officials also listed their other priorities at the meeting. A firefighters’ union representative also spoke about the needs at fire stations. Officials said they have continued to meet, discuss and review the earlier Facets study. No action was taken at the April 5 meeting.
Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Chief Kevin Shirley said many of the city’s fire stations are “in dire straits.” As buildings aged, repair costs rose and budgets got tighter, he said. All the stations need various levels of improvement, he added. A presentation at the meeting included photos and specific details of the needs at each station.
He also said there should have been a comprehensive plan for improvement for repairs and replacement put in place years ago. The need is not only for safe places for firefighters, but also for the safety of neighborhoods.
“I believe we live in a city that deserves a first-class Fire Department,” Shirley said.
He also said there is a need for a way to clean and decontaminate gear and equipment. That reduces the risk of cancer for firefighters, he said. Special equipment called extractors will clean gear after use, he said. He said it is a priority to reduce the risk of cancer to firefighters.
The need for the extractors, and for additional ventilated lockers, has an effect on the space needed for fire stations, many of which are crowded now, according to fire officials.
“The fire station build and renovation program must move forward as rapidly as possible,” Shirley said. “With the new fire station in the Piper area as a springboard, and the remodeling of Fire Station 5 in the northeast, we are moving in the right direction. The Fire Department needs to move forward as quickly as possible, building and renovating the remaining stations. It is encouraging to see the willingness of the Fire Department, IAFF local 64 and the city working together to accomplish these goals. I am confident progress will be made.”
Jack Andrade, senior assistant chief of logistics for the Fire Department, said the Fire Department management and union representatives have been reviewing the Facets study report for two years. Committees have been formed to address deficiencies, and there also are strategic initiative committees.
The logistics committee has been discussing a 10-year replacement plan for apparatus and a 20-year strategic plan for the buildings, he said. The fire stations have an average 60-year life span, he added. Age, overcrowding and noncompliance with ADA and gender rules, and national fire standards, were listed for each station.
In 2001, the Fire Department added 14 ambulances to 18 existing fire stations when it added the emergency medical services for the city, he said. The stations were not used to accommodating that many people and the extra emergency vehicles, he said. The Fire Department also added extra rescue teams post-Sept. 11, he said.
The Fire Department also needs to remove firefighters from risk from carcinogens, according to officials. This means sleeping quarters that are not in the same room where vehicles are parked, and it also means adding space for extractors.
The new Piper fire station
UG Commissioner Mike Kane at Thursday’s meeting said he felt like the UG was “dragging its feet” in building a new Piper fire station, whose funding has already been approved by the UG Commission.
The new Piper fire station at Leavenworth Road and Hutton Road is slated for groundbreaking in fall of 2018 with a completion date of 2019, according to Fire Department officials. A request for proposals for an architect was issued March 29.
“It was my hope that they would have jumped on that right away,” Commissioner Kane said on Friday. “I feel we should have been breaking ground this spring, and I am disappointed.”
He said that a neighbor asked him who covers the area for everyone else in Piper when the ambulance is in use for one person. “Nobody’s left more open than we are,” Commissioner Kane said. He believes the issue of the new fire station and adequate coverage is a matter of safety for the residents. He worked in safety for 21 years and feels strongly about it, he said.
“We don’t need one fire station, we need two fire stations,” Commissioner Kane said about the Piper area. The area’s buildings and population have grown greatly in the past several years, he said. The area pays a lot of taxes to the UG, and Piper just wants what every other district already has, he said. However, only one new fire station is proposed for the Piper area currently. The old “pole barn” fire station is currently located not far from Piper school district buildings near 123rd and Leavenworth Road. Commissioner Kane said he had been working on getting a new fire station for the area since he has first been elected.
Figuring out the finances for the department’s entire build and remodel program will be a challenge.
“We have to figure out a way to get this done and still run the city,” Commissioner Kane said. “We also need coverage out west and we don’t have it.”
The UG Commission voted on the budget last August, authorizing the funds for the Piper fire station.
At the Thursday night meeting, UG Administrator Doug Bach responded to Kane’s comment about UG staff “dragging its feet.”
Bach said staff is not dragging its feet on the project. It has taken longer than they’d like to get it done, but the UG hasn’t done a fire station since 2001, he said. There was no expertise in-house on building a fire station, so they spent extra time to make sure they were doing it right, Bach said.
As they look ahead to more future fire stations in the community, they hope this one will be a model to build on for the others, he said.
“We’re working hard to make sure we get it right,” Bach said. Also, it took longer than expected to get the land closed, he added. He said they ended up with a good location for the project.
The goal is to start building a new fire station about every two years, Andrade said at the April 5 meeting.
The Fire Department plans on moving forward on either mild remodeling or rebuilds to all fire stations, and its top four priorities for rebuilds or remodeling, besides the new Piper fire station, are Stations No. 4 near 81st and Leavenworth Road, No. 16 at 1437 S. 55th, No. 17 at 2416 S. 51st, and No. 20 at 7741 Kansas Ave., according to officials.
Other fire stations also will be worked into a schedule for repairs or rebuilds in the future.
Some of these fire stations are former township fire stations and were not originally built for the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department, according to fire officials. Many fire stations here are not compliant with American for Disabilities Act standards and also with national fire standards, according to the officials’ report presented April 5.
Besides the need for cleaning equipment at the fire stations, Fire Department officials also said that when the earlier fire stations were built, many of the vehicles were smaller than they are now. Also, when most of the fire stations were built, the city was not operating the city’s emergency medical service, as it is now. That means more vehicles are at the fire stations than previously.
Mayor David Alvey said he recalled when the townships were in charge of fire stations in their areas, before annexation. There was a long period of neglect of maintenance for some of the buildings after annexation, and that pattern cannot be repeated in the future, he said.
In the future, the UG can’t say it has not put enough money into the maintenance or kept abreast of the changes that need to be made, he said.
“We have to make the commitment to providing the best facilities we can,” he said. They also need to look at what they have in reserve for the future as this equipment ages and these facilities age, he said.
Commissioner Melissa Bynum was interested in the Fire Department looking into the possibility of combined fire stations and police stations in a shared building.
Commissioner Harold Johnson raised questions about whether it might be more costly to renovate than to build new fire stations. He saw some instances where the cost of renovations might be greater than new buildings.
Commissioners Ann Brandau Murguia, Brian McKiernan and Tom Burroughs questioned the cost estimates for new fire stations listed in the report. Some new stations were listed at $1.4 million. The magnitude of the problem seems to be greater than what has been stated, Murguia said.
Fire Department officials agreed that costs were likely to be more than $1.4 million for a new station.
Bob Wing, the business representative for Local 64, said that Kansas City, Missouri, faced similar problems with fire station needs. They faced lawsuits over inadequate facilities for women employees, and also for employees living in toxic areas. They solved the problem by going to voters for additional funding.
Commissioner Murguia suggested asking foundations in the community for donations toward public safety facilities. It’s possible that some foundations would support fire stations that are located close to the initiatives that they have already funded.
Bach said they would apply for some governmental grants.
Wing said other cities had received federal grant dollars for building structures such as fire stations in parks and on public grounds.
Burroughs asked about a total cost for the entire program, and discussed the amount of money to set aside each year to pay for rebuilds and renovations.
For more details from this meeting, see a video of the meeting on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kh-SdB9Cbb8.