Chief Barkley addresses county fire dept. concerns

By Robert Pierce
Southwest Daily Times – April 13, 2017

Seward County Commission Chairman Nathan McCaffrey, right, outlines the discussion that took place last Thursday during a town hall meeting regarding the county fire department at the Activity Center. The meeting was one of two hosted by the county, with the other taking place at the Kismet Pavilion. McCaffrey is joined here by Seward County Fire Chief Andrew Barkley. L&T photo/Robert Pierce

Seward County Fire Chief Andrew Barkley believes some false information has been floating around the community about his department.

“What we would like to see happen and what’s going to happen are two different things,” he said last week at a town hall meeting in Liberal for the county’s fire department.

Some of the information Barkley was talking about is rumors that the fire department wants to fund a round-the-clock department with 20 members.

Barkley likewise cleared up information about the county’s volunteer firefighters.

“They’re paid per call, but a lot of them cannot leave work to go on call during the day,” he said.

Barkley said the number of volunteers available during night hours is great, but because of not being able to leave work during daytime hours, volunteers are lower from Monday to Friday in those hours.

Since the inception of the Seward County Fire Department (SCFD) in 1964, Barkley said the department has consistently maintained a full-time fire chief, with all frontline firefighters being volunteers.

“The primary fire station was in Kismet, later sharing a facility with the City of Liberal and finally establishing the Cimarron fire station up by Supreme Feeders,” he said giving an outline of the department’s history up to the present.

Barkley said the SCFD responds to an average of 250 calls per year, providing a wide array of services.

“Services provided by your department include medical emergencies, fire and rescue activation, chemical assessment, fire prevention and public service assist,” he said. “The department serves all areas outside the city limits of Liberal and provides automatic aide for structure fires and motor vehicle accidents to Turpin, Oklahoma.”

Barkley added the SCFD provides mutual aide to Beaver County and Texas County in Oklahoma and to Stevens, Haskell and Meade counties in Kansas, as well as the City of Liberal.

“Your department has three fire stations, covers 642 square miles and currently operates with two paid fire chief officers, two frontline firefighters and 16 volunteer firefighters,” he said. “We provide service to over 2,000 residents in rural Seward County.”

Barkley said a trend from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the number of volunteer firefighters has declined by about 143,000 positions since 1984. He said there are many reasons for that drop.

“In 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 44 percent of those people were no longer volunteering in fire service because of the lack of time, 14 percent was due to health problems, and 9.5 because of family responsibility,” he said. “In 2004, St. Joseph University found that 92 percent of volunteers no longer had time to volunteer. That is not just affecting the fire service, but volunteerism as a whole across the U.S.”

Barkley said other federal agencies have other reasons for the drop in volunteerism in fire departments.

“The United States Fire Administration cites contributing factors in the decline of volunteer firefighters to the new federal requirements and training standards, greater public expectations in the fire service, response capabilities, recertifications, dual income households working multiple jobs or longer hours in today’s economy, increased call volumes, less of an emphasis on the social aspects of a volunteer department in the ‘me’ generation,” he said. “Federal guidelines state that you need 283 hours of training just to be a volunteer firefighter. You need an additional 336 hours of training to promote to a company officer and a fire captain.”

Barkley said the county’s Kismet fire station has five paid call firefighters, up by one position from 2015, with Liberal’s fire station having 10 and the Cimarron fire station having one.

He then reviewed some of the recent numbers for call volume.

“In 2016, our busiest time of day was between 2 and 5 o’clock,” he said. “In 2013, we ran 130 calls from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. versus 125 calls from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.”

With several grass fires already taking place, Barkley said 2017 is on pace to keep up with recent numbers.

“From Jan. 1 to now, we’ve run 31 fire calls, 15 EMS calls,” he said. “We’ve run 12 rescue and motor vehicle accidents. We’ve had one hazardous incident call and 66 public service assists.”

Seward County Appraiser Angela Eichman then talked to the audience at the Activity Center about the county’s rural fire budget, saying no matter where taxpayers live, the mill levy for that budget is the same throughout the county.

“The levies are going to be different in each taxing unit, but there are certain ones that never change,” she said. “They will always be the same no matter what taxing unit they are. The State of Kansas, Seward County and junior college, everyone pays that for the county. Once you get outside the city of Liberal, there’s a taxing unit map. That will basically show where you live and what taxes you will pay, who gets your tax dollars.”

Barkley said for 2018, while still staying within its budget, the SCFD would like to add one more position in order to put one person at each fire station to get to trucks when needed.

“We’re trying to stay within what we’re already operating in and provide that for you,” he said.

Barkley said department officials plan to work hard to find an additional daytime career firefighter without raising taxes.

“This will allow for a one-person staff at all three county fire stations in 2018,” he said. “There’ll be no additional cost to our budget compared to 2017, and there will be no additional mill levy increase for rural fire because of something that we’re doing.”

Barkley said the ultimate goal is to get trucks to the scene faster and get more trucks out to the problem area before the situation gets worse.

Seward County Administrator April Warden later reviewed the county’s budgeting process.

“By July, they will have to submit those budgets to the commissioners for review,” she said. “We have what we call budget work sessions. Those are open to the public.”

Warden said at that time, commissioners look through the county’s department budgets to see what is being requested and any major differences from previous years.

“They’re required to give us three year’s history,” she said of department heads. “That’s budget law.”

Warden said during last year’s budget process, in order to keep the mill levy from changing, county officials had to cut $250,000 from the budget.

“That’s when we start looking through your budgets to find where you can make cuts,” she said.

Warden said after the budget work session, the county hosts a public hearing for people to comment on the proposed budget.

“That’s always published,” she said. “What the budget is we’ll be proposing will be printed in the newspaper. We’ll also have it on our website in different locations. We’re trying to reach the public more.”

Warden said at public hearings, constituents can look at the proposed budget presented for the commission’s approval.

“At that time, they can take suggestions, or if you have things that want to talk on, that’s the time in which to do that before they approve the budget,” she said.

As a way to clear up some of the confusion about the county’s budget, Warden said the county is looking at trying to start having town hall meetings to allow people to become more informed about the budget.

“I feel we’ve had a pretty decent turnout here tonight, so hopefully, we continue to have that where people can come out and ask questions if they don’t understand,” she said.


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
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