Wichita in Danger - Firefighters Understaffed

The following is from our Brothers and Sisters at IAFF Local 135. Please support them at http://www.iaff135.com/. Contact information for Wichita City Council can be found at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Pages/default.aspx - JL

Starting June 16th the Fire Department implemented a change in staffing. Previously we have filled open positions utilizing overtime to cover openings and provide 117 personnel on duty. They will now only hire back 3 persons per day to cover openings. They have a matrix that would reduce fire service down to a level of 91 personnel. Starting June 29th the City is only taking off two units a day. The exception is if they cannot find anyone to work. We have 10 new Firefighters who will start working 24 hour shifts in the next week or so.

Unscheduled leave can be many things. It is not just people calling in sick, it could be a someone injured during an emergency not able to work, military leave, sick child or spouse that needs to be cared for, or someone who is being treated for an off the job illness or injury. We cannot have personnel on the fire truck that cannot perform their duties. It would endanger the citizens and the other fire personnel.

In 2011 we negotiated for a minimum staffing number in the contact. This was done to protect the citizens and fire personnel. The City has honored this with rare exceptions such as they could not find anyone to work.

The politicians such as the Mayor, Council Members, and City Manager must approve of the new policy. In fact the “City of Wichita Government” has attacked the firefighters, blaming them for the short staffing. When asked to define unscheduled leave the Politicians and the City are silent. They implied that 10 members called in sick creating the need to remove four units from service on Monday, June 25th. Here is a link to their post and our response.

June 24th Wichita Fire responded to a church fire in Andale after a mutual aid request. Our truck company was set up and hitting the fire with the elevated stream. Around the time we change shifts, crews were ordered to cease operations and return to the City. They were actively fighting the fire and other on scene units requested five more minutes of flowing water. Radio traffic stated they would have to ask the chief if they could stay. This crew was the only 100 foot aerial device (truck) on scene. Sedgwick County Fire only has ladders that are 75 feet. We abandoned our firefighting efforts and returned to the city. It has been reported that firefighting efforts were hampered and Newton Kansas (35 miles away) was called to replace the Wichita unit.

The Fire Administration has many different reasons for their actions. The first was a miscommunication. The second excuse was reported to be because of shift change. We do not stop at shift change during an emergency. We transport the oncoming personnel to the scene to replace the crews going home. This may take an hour or so, but it keeps firefighting efforts, or other emergency actions in place. An independent investigation may be needed to uncover the facts of this abandonment of our duties.

The City plans to roll the dice and remove Engine 6 from service. This crew serves Far east Wichita. It has been housed in County Fire Station 38 since 2004. The City Politicians annexed most of the area around this station. How will taking away firefighters from the far east side of Wichita improve the public safety? How will it improve the safety of the citizens of Wichita? What has changed, this cooperative venture was founded under the leadership of Former Council Member Schlapp to improve public safety and response time? This area has grown tremendously since 2004. Tornado sirens are not put up because there was a tornado, they are put up in case there is a tornado. Firefighters are placed in stations to make neighborhoods safer. Will removing firefighters make you safer?

Why are Politicians and Fire Administrators trying to civilianize the Fire Department? They would cause civilian EMT’s to respond to lower priority incidents. This sounds great in theory, but if they encountered a true emergency, would they be able to handle it? Today when we respond, citizens get an experienced fire crew who is able to care for them. We have lower priority incidents that turn out to be significant. Recently a crew responded to assist a citizen (low priority). The Fire Officer recognized the citizen had a broken hip and needed ems. EMS was called for and treatment was started. 911 gets second or third hand information most of the time. Expecting them to be able to flawlessly determine the level of illness or injury without complete information is impossible. The current system provides the same capability regardless of perceived level of emergency.

The City has talked about adding 32 additional police officers next year. As far as we know they are not being limited in overtime. Why are we cutting fire, and adding to police? WPD has a recent staffing study done that showed a lack of staffing. The last fire study was done around 2000. The City has not shrank, the emergencies have not stopped, why are we cutting fire. Where will the money from saved overtime be used? Is this how they plan to pay for additional civilian employees?

Please contact the Mayor and your Council Member and tell them to staff the Fire Department and provide the needed budget to not cut any fire units, now or at the end of the year.