Most big cities use a firefighter staffing standard that Kansas City would violate if it adopts proposed fire department cuts, Fire Chief Smokey Dyer said Wednesday.
Dyer told the city council’s Public Safety Committee that Chicago, Memphis, Louisville, Dallas and Houston are among major U.S. cities that require at least four firefighters per pumper, in compliance with national fire protection standards. That staffing allows two people in the first pumper on the scene to begin spraying water on a fire, while two others can begin attacking the fire within a building and rescuing any victims.
Kansas City began increasing its firefighting ranks and staffed up its pumpers ten years ago to meet that standard. But City Manager Troy Schulte has recommended cutting 105 firefighters, saying the city has far fewer fires now and can save $7.5 million without compromising public safety.
Such a reduction would force deployment changes and reductions to the pumpers, Dyer said.
There is no financial penalty for violating the national standard, and Dyer acknowledged that Oklahoma City, Omaha, Minneapolis, Tulsa and Des Moines do not require four people per pumper. He also said he was simply providing information to the committee, not challenging his boss’s budget recommendation.
The City Council has just begun debating Schulte’s proposal and will not approve a new budget until late March. Mayor Sly James will present his response to Schulte’s plan Thursday.
Committee Chair John Sharp said the city made a conscious decision in 2001 to beef up its pumper staffing and he opposes any change. He said the fire department has to accept cuts like all other departments, but not this way.
“I can’t imagine a worse way to make cuts in the budget,” he said.
Schulte declined to comment Wednesday on the debate over his recommendation.
Mike Cambiano, the new president of the local firefighters union, told the committee that union members worked three and a half weeks without pay several years ago to help the fire department avoid proposed fire station closures. He said the union is willing to work with the city again on its budget challenges. But he argued that changing the pumper staffing would jeopardize public safety and is not the solution.