Overland Park & Leawood

Fire district faces questions after contract with Overland Park ends

The end of a decades-old contract with Overland Park has left Johnson County Consolidated Fire District No. 2 with a dilemma about where to put a new fire station.

Earlier this year, Overland Park chose not to renew a contract with the fire district, for coverage of a midsection of the city.

For around 40 years, the district has provided service to the area, which sits approximately from 95th Street to College Boulevard, between Nall Avenue and Mission Road.

The move has caused the fire district to scratch plans for a new fire station intended for 95th Street, south of the Meadowbrook Country Club.

A couple years ago, the district bought the land for a new station, which would replace the one located at 9011 Roe Ave. The 50-year-old station has leakage and drainage issues.

But now without the contract with Overland Park, the district wants the new fire station to remain in a more central location.

Administrators are looking at locations north of the current station. There’s even discussion of renovating the current station or tearing it down and rebuilding a new one on the same spot.

“It’s nice we have some options, but we’re not committed to anything right now,” said fire district Chief Tony Lopez. “I’m looking forward to getting the project off the ground.”

The fire district has two other stations, one in Mission and the other on 63rd Street in Prairie Village.

Once a decision about the new fire station has been made, the district will look into selling the land it bought two years ago.

The loss of the contract, which was worth $325,000, has forced the district to adjust its 2015 budget. The fire district will not terminate any employees as a result, but Lopez said some employees might get shifted to other stations.

Overland Park gave the fire district a fair warning, he pointed out, so the decision didn’t come as a surprise.

“The writing was on the wall,” Lopez said. “We had time to prepare.”

The reason for the discontinuation stems from Overland Park’s integration of Advanced Life Support, life-saving skills that go beyond basic life support, into its fire department. Since 1999, Overland Park has been training or hiring “firemedics” to meet ALS standards. A firemedic is an employee who is both a firefighter and paramedic.

Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehner said when it became clear that the district wasn’t pursuing the ALS route, the city decided to part ways.

“At the end of the day, we made a decision that wasn’t taken lightly,” he said. “It was definitely not a knee-jerk decision.”

In January, Overland Park will open an ALS squad house located at 104th Street and Reeds Road. It will not house a fire truck.

Starting Feb. 15, any medical call in the area will be handled by the new squad house.

And although the city has discontinued its contract with the district, residents living in the area will not experience a difference when it comes to fire-related emergencies, Dehner said.

Overland Park has an automatic aid agreement with the fire district and Leawood Fire Department, which means that anyone in the formerly contracted area who needs a fire truck will get one in the same amount of time from one of their nearby stations, depending on which one is closer, he explained.

The end of the contract with the district isn’t the only change happening to the Overland Park Fire Department this year.

On Sunday, the Overland Park Fire Department will merge with the Merriam Fire Department. There is already a firemedic installed at its fire station, which sits near the Ikea store.

Once the contract with the district officially expires at the end of the year, Overland Park will have an ALS staff member at all of its fire stations.

It is not alone. Other cities in Johnson County who use ALS include Olathe and Lenexa. Across the state line, Kansas City also uses it.

The decision to integrate advanced life support at fire stations was about providing the highest level of care, Dehner said.

“It just offers extra protection,” he said. “Eighty percent of our business is EMS, so it’s important to be on top of our game.”