• Fire district dispute rages on

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  • The city of Blue Springs wants Central Jackson County Fire Protection District to cover all of Blue Springs, but another fire district that currently covers southern portions of the city said it is not necessary.
    The Blue Springs City Council recently approved the measure of the city retaining law firm Zerger & Mauer LLP to provide legal advice for citizens living under the Prairie Township Fire Protection District on how to exclude their property from the district. Council Member Susan Culpepper said Prairie Township does not have the capacity to serve citizens under their district and that she received emails and phone calls from those said citizens concerned about their safety.
    According to the Prairie Township Fire Protection District website, the district was established in 1954, covering 32 square miles in southeastern Jackson County. The district currently covers the Missouri 7 corridor extending south around Moreland School Road to north of Colbern Road in southern Blue Springs. This section of Blue Springs includes the Edgewood, Lake Village and Southgate communities. Prairie Township is staffed with 12 full-time, around-the-clock firefighters and 18 paramedics, said Prairie Township Board of Directors chairman Harry McLane.
    “And we’re under the assumption that we’re volunteer,” added McLane. “We’re not.”
    Prairie Township fire chief Larry Robinson and McLane both said they not received one email, phone call or in-person complaint of the district’s service from any Blue Springs residents their district covers.
    “Why does the city (of Blue Springs) want CJC to cover all of Blue Springs when there are no problems?” McLane asked. “The whole issue is Blue Springs doesn’t have its own fire department.”
    But one Blue Springs council member and Edgewood community member Georgiann Manz think otherwise. Culpepper said the problem with Prairie Township providing EMS and fire service to Blue Springs residents within that district is a matter of distance. The district’s sole station is located at 11010 Milton Thompson Road in unincorporated Jackson County south of Lake Lotawana.
    “The issue is the fact they (Prairie Township) are so far away. It has nothing to do with their ability to fight fires, but strictly about logistics,” Culpepper said.
    “Their station is over six miles away from us,” said Manz.
    Culpepper added as more and more homes are being built in the southside of Blue Springs, it creates more of an issue for Prairie Township.
    Robinson said that his district has discussed the possibility of building a second station off of Wyatt Road in Blue Springs, but with the economy still rebounding and the district’s annual average of 400-plus calls, it does not warrant the need for one. Sixty-three of those calls came from southern Blue Springs in 2013, according to McLane.
    Page 2 of 4 - “Seventy-nine percent of our $1.3 million annual budget goes toward personnel,” Robinson said.
    He and McLane said also that they haven’t raised the property tax levy for the district in years, even though the state of Missouri allows them to raise it. They both cite there isn’t a reason to raise the levy and that their revenue mostly comes from sales tax through local businesses within the district.
    Jim Moran, another resident of the Edgewood community, said it took 20 minutes for Prairie Township to respond to a residential fire in his subdivision that occurred July 2011. “It is a matter of life and property. What took Prairie Township 20 minutes can take CJC five.”
    Robinson said there has been a total of three residential houses that his district covers in Blue Springs since he became chief in 2010. The other two fires occurred in 2012. The July 2011 fire was believed to have been caused by fireworks and originated at the home’s porch, he said. Robinson added that he called for special aerial equipment from Lee’s Summit Fire Department to prevent it from reaching the home’s attic and both Prairie Township and CJCFPD units arrived at the scene. He also said there has been no reported house fires since 2012 and that 80 percent of all the calls his district receives are EMS-related.
    “We (Prairie Township) try to cut down response time by analyzing every call,” said Robinson. “We’re here for one reason: To serve citizens.”
    But according to Manz’s records, there were another two structural house fires that occurred at the Edgewood community in May and October 2011.
    “One of the residential fires was a complete loss valued at $200,000 worth of damage,” she said. “Prairie Township arrived within 11 minutes, while Lake Lotawana came later at 19.”
    Manz said another former Edgewood resident met with Prairie Township officials in November that same year.
    “CJC doesn’t come to our fires unless they have automatic aid with Prairie Township,” said Manz.
    In April 2013, members of the Edgewood Homeowners Association met with Prairie Township’s Board of Directors to express their concerns regarding response times. Blue Springs Council members Culpepper and Ron Fowler – both representing District 3 – and Jeff Quibell, who served as a mediator according to Robinson, attended the meeting as well. What came out of the meeting was to establish an automatic aid agreement between Prairie Township and CJC, Robinson said. “One homeowners association member said they didn’t have a problem with Prairie Township, but a CJC station is closer to their area.”
    Page 3 of 4 - He said there are two types of aid neighboring fire districts and departments can use to help one another: Mutual and automatic aid agreements. A mutual aid agreement is when a district or department asks for equipment or personnel aid from another district/department during a call, while an automatic aid agreement is when two districts/departments agree to both respond to the same call within a certain geographical area.
    “I don’t believe in sandboxes,” Robinson said concerning fire district boundaries. “Above all, it’s about public safety.”
    McLane and Robinson said an automatic aid agreement was established between Prairie Township and CJC for four months in 2013. It was terminated by CJC’s Board of Directors because of Prairie Township not providing strategic planning “that would identify specific goals, action items and time frames for your District to improve response time and the overall levels of service,” according to a memo written by CJC Board of Directors chairman John Hardy. He also wrote Prairie Township’s strategic and operational planning was needed by CJC’s Board so that they could explain to “our patrons why tax dollars generated from our jurisdiction are being used automatically to serve the needs of patrons in a different district.” However, the memo said the mutual aid agreement that was established between the two districts in 2001 remained in effect.
    Robinson asked why did his district have to provide strategic planning, while CJC did not provide their own to them. “They (CJC) have auto aid with Fort Osage, Sni Valley, everybody except the southern end (of Jackson County).” Manz said the same regarding the different districts that have an automatic aid agreement with CJC.
    Now Edgewood residents want to de-annex from Prairie Township due to the lack of an automatic aid agreement with CJC, said Robinson. “If they’re (CJC) all about public safety, then they should have an automatic aid agreement with us.”
    “We want to be cooperative with CJCFPD,” said McLane. “We are not here to throw stones at them, either.” He added that Prairie Township maintains a good relationship between neighboring Lake Lotawana, Lone Jack and Pleasant Hill fire departments.
    CJC Public Information Officer Eddie Saffell said CJC itself is not involved in determining fire district boundaries. “We’ll stay out of it, but we’ll support whatever happens, as long as all of Blue Springs has an equal level of protection.” He added for Blue Springs residents to be excluded from Prairie Township is a “long and drawn-out” process that has two major steps. First, Prairie Township’s Board has to let them out. And secondly, CJC’s Board has to vote whether or not to include those particular Blue Springs residents for coverage.
    Page 4 of 4 - “It actually requires a number of steps,” Saffell said
    “All of the citizens within my district have to vote on the de-annex,” said Robinson on whether southern Blue Springs residents under Prairie Township want to be excluded. “And the Board has to initially OK it.”
    “Prairie Township wants to work with Blue Springs, but they do not want to work with us.”
    Brian Mauer of Zerger & Mauer LLP said the firm is currently discussing options with Blue Springs citizens under the Prairie Township district on how to exclude their property from it.
    Robinson asserts that he and his district doesn’t want to this fire district boundary issue to be political. He encourages the city of Blue Springs, CJC and even Zerger & Mauer LLP to schedule a discussion with Prairie Township in the near future.
    “If you have a problem (with Prairie Township), call me,” Robinson said regarding Blue Springs residents under his district. “We will do everything we can to rectify the problem.”
    Manz said that she would like all of Blue Springs to be covered under the same fire district, regardless of who it is. She added that she discussed the issue with the city and that it is “taking steps to get a permanent solution.”
    “Our hope is that CJC and Prairie can come to an agreement to offer south Blue Springs an auto aid agreement to ensure that the closest emergency service will be the first to respond to calls regardless of the district boundary,” said Georgiann’s husband, Tom Manz, who is also the president of the Edgewood Homeowners Association.
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