I would like to take this opportunity to expound on a letter to the editor on Feb. 7 by Kirk Stobart, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 781, “A close call goes unreported,” that tells the story of a house destroyed by fire and the occupants’ narrow escape; specifically a teenager trapped on the second floor and helped out of a window by a neighbor who fortunately was at home at the time, because the fire station responsible for their safety was closed that morning, purportedly due to budget cuts, ultimately due to decisions made by the fire chief and city manager not to spend taxpayer dollars to staff it.

I would like to take this opportunity to expound on a letter to the editor on Feb. 7 by Kirk Stobart, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 781, “A close call goes unreported,” that tells the story of a house destroyed by fire and the occupants’ narrow escape; specifically a teenager trapped on the second floor and helped out of a window by a neighbor who fortunately was at home at the time, because the fire station responsible for their safety was closed that morning, purportedly due to budget cuts, ultimately due to decisions made by the fire chief and city manager not to spend taxpayer dollars to staff it.


It has been very disappointing that Local 781 officials haven’t continuously, publicly addressed these longtime staffing shortages. To quote radio legend Paul Harvey: “Here’s the rest of the story.”


It has been commonplace for a long time for a fire station to have what’s called minimum manning, which equates to as few as two firefighters at a fire station. They can respond to medical calls and structures, but guess what! They are prohibited from entering the structure to perform a rescue or fight the fire per NFPA 1500 – Rule 1710= Two men in and two men out; OSHA Rule 1910 also states there must be a minimum team of two men to enter a structure and there must also be a minimum of two men outside the structure.


Consequently they have to wait for a second pumper company to arrive, but what if that pumper is on a fire or medical emergency in its assigned territory? Oh, no problem – just call another pumper company from another assigned territory to fill the operational gap, so now we have a very large portion of the city with no readily available fire and medical protection from the Fire Department, and you’re really out of luck if your fire station is unstaffed that day.


Don’t be foolish and believe this can’t happen. A minimum fire company is not two or even three, but four firefighters per shift, and Independence Fire Department administration knows this.


I’ll bet you didn’t know that Station 9 and possibly others have been required to be on duty at William Chrisman High School football games and Fourth of July activities on the Square. How can that be justified? It can’t. It’s discriminatory by the city. Also firefighters have been required to abandon their fire stations at night to make up the staffing shortage at another fire station. These practices have gone on for many years, and I have addressed my concerns with various council members and our past and current fire chiefs, yet the process continues.


When you combine these practices with required training away from the station, it’s a formula for tragedy, and luck is very unpredictable, and the history regarding the low number of calls a particular fire station as had is a poor hedge when it comes to people’s lives, homes and property. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. You can’t have it both ways when you protect and serve, and the taxpayers deserve and expect constant, adequate and proper protection and service from the city and Fire Department.


How can the fire chief and city manager, with clear consciences, allow this to happen? Here again we have an example of our city leaders irresponsibly cutting corners and basic essential services, and a the same time hoping we will be foolish and naive enough to award them with even more of your hard-earned tax dollars.


Someone has to be held accountable and take responsibility for these practices, and I believe Harry Truman’s famous quote “the buck stops here” with the fire chief and city manager is very applicable.


Primarily, the only and inevitable time a fire station should be required to take on the responsibility of another fire station’s territory is when that fire station is in training or on a fire or medical call. And I understand that occasionally circumstances will require a fire station pumper to be temporarily out of service, but professional planning will keep that to a very minimum and without potentially fatal consequence to any other part of the city.


Also, I don’t begrudge the firefighters for wanting to eat out occasionally – even though most stations have start-of-the-art kitchens – especially if they’re already away from the station. However, the savings from any and all unnecessary trips associated with the wear and tear on very expensive fire trucks and the rising costs of fuel could be used toward properly and adequately staffing all the fire stations all the time. I’m sure all firefighters citywide want to do their part to help protect life and property. I have to wonder if our fire chief and city manager will in the near future come to the voters again for yet another property tax increase, saying the Fire Department is underfunded and they need to spend more money staffing firefighters for our safety and well-being because they care so much. Haven’t we been down this road before?


The next time you see a fire truck out and about, you have the right to wonder where it’s going or where it’s been. If you don’t exercise your voice and vote of disapproval, you’re in essence saying you don’t care and approve of these potentially fatal management decisions. Don’t be foolish and think this issue will never affect you.


Sweet dreams.


 


Greg Perry lives in Independence.