KC fire chief objects to proposed budget cuts to his department

Proposed reductions to Kansas City’s firefighting force would violate national fire safety standards, Fire Chief Smokey Dyer told the City Council’s public safety committee Wednesday.

And Committee Chairman John Sharp worried the move would force firefighters to make difficult decisions at structure fires and endanger public safety.

“I am very uncomfortable about reducing the number of people on a pumper truck,” Sharp said.

Dyer and Sharp were reacting to City Manager Troy Schulte’s budget recommendation Tuesday, which called for reducing the firefighting ranks by 105 positions. The City Council will decide in late March whether to accept Schulte’s budget recommendations.

Schulte pointed out that structure fires have declined dramatically over the past decade. He said reducing the fire ranks would save the city $7.6 million, which could go for raises for the rest of the firefighters and other city employees.

The Fire Department now has 300 ambulance workers, and all firefighters are cross-trained in emergency medical response. Schulte said reducing the number of firefighters on each fire truck should not endanger the public and would allow the city to avoid shutting down fire stations or eliminating skilled rescue units.

Dyer said dropping from four people to three on each fire truck would go against national fire protection standards and OSHA rules. He said it will be up to the city’s elected leaders to decide “what kind of fire department we can afford.”

Dyer later acknowledged that there are no financial consequences to non-compliance with the national standards, and Sharp said many other big cities do not comply.

But Sharp recalled the council made a conscious decision in 2001 to go from three to four firefighters, and said that improved the department’s ability to quickly fight fires and rescue victims who may be inside a burning building.

He said the recommended reduction would be a “huge step back” for the city and the council should find better ways to cut the budget and provide employee raises.