UG will not seek federal grant for firefighter positions

Wyandotte Daily – July 2, 2018

The Unified Government Commission on Thursday night turned down a federal grant application that would have provided 24 new firefighters.

The commission voted 6-3 to turn it down, with Commissioners Jim Walters, Tom Burroughs and Ann Murguia voting against the motion to not go forward with it. Voting for the motion to not go forward were Commissioners Gayle Townsend, Melissa Bynum, Brian McKiernan, Harold Johnson, Angela Markley and Jane Philbrook.

Interim Fire Chief Kevin Shirley brought the application to the UG Commission for approval. The timing was all wrong for the commission, however.

Shirley explained that they had just received a letter stating that their grant application needed a letter of approval from the governing board before the end of June to proceed.

However, UG commissioners had several concerns, including that they had not yet completed their budget for next year, which is usually completed by the last week of July or sometimes, the first week of August.

Commissioner Gayle Townsend said she felt that if they approved it, they would be taking an action in a vacuum, not having yet had the overall discussions for the budget cycle.

Commissioner Melissa Bynum said she thought the grant application should have come to a committee meeting first for discussion. The level of the local required match was significant, she said.

The first year was a $383,000 local match, a similar amount the second year, then the local match jumped to $840,000 the third year. After the third year, the UG would have to come up with all the funds to maintain those positions, unless it lost some positions to attrition.

Commissioner Ann Brandau Murguia asked Shirley if the Fire Department would agree, if they approved the grant for the next three years, that for three years that would suffice for minimum staffing. Shirley said he could not say that, but he would say it is moving toward minimum staffing, which is a giant step.

The SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant would have provided funding for 24 firefighter positions, according to Shirley. The total cost of adding the firefighters would have been $3.8 million. The UG would have had to have matching funds of almost $1.5 million for a three-year period, and at the end of the grant, the cost to retain the firefighters would have been $2.5 million.

The Fire Department will have to wait to apply for this grant again, according to the chief. The grant would have moved the Fire Department closer to reaching minimum staffing, he said.

The extra staff would have provided a fourth firefighter in some engine companies, which was the recommended level of staffing, according to fire officials. Currently, many engines have three firefighters.

County Administrator Doug Bach recommended against approving the grant application. Bach told the commission that his recommendation would be for more dollars for infrastructure and equipment for the Fire Department, not for this level of staffing.

The UG has not yet made a final decision on the future alignment of fire stations and companies in Kansas City, Kansas, according to Bach.

Mayor David Alvey said it would have been ideal to have considered this grant application through the UG’s budget process. The UG is in the process of hiring a new fire chief, and it will be one of several issues the new chief will have to address, he said.

He said it would be better for the new chief to address the issue and make recommendations on this and other issues, to make sure they provide the best fire service to the community in a fiscally sustainable way.

The item was placed on the agenda shortly before the 7 p.m. meeting June 28, which resulted in a comment from Commissioner Brian McKiernan that he did not like to get information at the last minute.

Jack Andrade, senior assistant fire chief, said the UG had received this grant previously for 25 firefighters in 2009 during a recession. Then in 2012, it received another SAFER grant to get the department back to its original staffing number.

Andrade explained that the 24 firefighter positions this year would have allowed the Fire Department to come closer to complying with a 4-minute response time with four people on the rig. In 2017 the time was 4 minutes and 59 seconds, he said, in an average of about 30,000 calls. Four persons are needed on a pumper to comply with the standards.

It would take about 58 more people to come up to the standard of four people on a rig, and they understand it is too many, he said. Instead, only some of the rigs would have had four persons. They would have targeted certain areas for the four-person rigs, such as the University of Kansas Health System area, the railroad system and Fairfax industrial area.

According to the grant application, the Fire Department staffing levels currently are at 420, staffing was 436 a year ago, and staffing would have been 444 if the grant were awarded.

According to the grant application, in 2017 there was one fire-related civilian death, one firefighter death, 41 fire-related civilian injuries and 63 firefighter injuries in Kansas City, Kansas. That compared to two civilian fatalities in 2016, 21 civilian injuries, no firefighter fatalities and 12 firefighter injuries during 2016.

 

Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
http://www.ksffa.com
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