Independence Fire Chief Sandy Schiess and her chief officers have a running joke about handling their workload.

Independence Fire Chief Sandy Schiess and her chief officers have a running joke about handling their workload.

“The joke is, ‘I’ll just have my staff get on that,’” Schiess said, turning to look behind her and seeing no one. “Oh, that’s right, I am my staff.”   

Schiess and the fire department’s chief officers presented their needs for additional personnel Tuesday afternoon at the public safety services task force meeting. The task force, now in its final weeks of meeting, is conducting an in-depth study of the existing resources within the fire and police departments. Members must report their findings and recommendations, including a financial analysis of each recommendation, to City Manager Robert Heacock on or before Aug. 2.

“I’ve been in a quandary, and I’ve talked to my staff repeatedly,” Schiess said. “My staff is adamant that they do not want to reduce services in any way, shape or form.”

According to John Greene, deputy chief of emergency operations, the department no longer routinely responds to non-emergency medical calls. However, if a call comes through the 911 center, a fire unit is dispatched and responds until an ambulance crew notifies the communications center to advise the call is non-emergency.  

This change, among others, aims to help the fire department improve response times and to keep crews in service for emergency calls, Greene said. Another change now in consideration is the reduction of about 1,200 EMS calls annually by not responding to nursing homes except for life-threatening calls.

“I know – and my staff feels the same way – that we are in a quandary because like you we are very concerned about the impact of any additional funding mechanisms on the public,” Schiess said. “We’re there. We are at that curve. There is no more that I can do. With all of the efforts in the past, we have just bounced back with more calls.”

Because of call loads, Schiess said, fire department staff members are struggling to continue safety training in their brand-new, $2.7 million fire and safety training facility at 21011 E. Missouri 78, which was funded through the fire safety sales tax. (By state statute, that tax may only fund fire protection resources, not additional personnel.) The tax helped the staff address its need for training, an area that the department previously lacked, though the department’s training is at just 60 percent of where it should be, Schiess said.  

“We’re doing a lot of it now,” she said of regular training practices. “We’ve implemented as much technology as we can to keep them in station, but when I have to pull them to meet national training requirements, they’re out of service unless there is a major call.

“As the call volume goes up, we’re dealing with safety issues. We’re dealing with competency issues. We’re dealing with stuff that I don’t want to deal with long-term.”

Chief officers expressed the following positions as needs, among others:

 Chief Fire Inspector Gene Gould requested an administrative assistant who could serve as a liaison among community customers and could provide data entry in tracking inspections and environmental studies.

 

 Gould also requested a public educator who would deliver fire safety and emergency preparedness messages. This position would be shared with Mark Widner, the city’s emergency preparedness manager.

 

 Widner also requested one full-time planner. Widner, along with one part-time administrative assistant, now staff the emergency preparedness division. The division, Widner said, relies mainly on volunteers to reduce costs to the city.

 

 Steve Bailey, assistant fire chief of training, requested one part-time coordinator. Bailey also serves as the department’s safety officer, oversees the hiring and the evaluation of new firefighters and is in charge of employee development.


“Not a single member of my staff is sure this is the right time to ask the citizens for anything, but eventually, we’re going to reach a finite number, and we’re not sure what we’re going to do at that time,” Schiess said to task force members. “We know what you’re dealing with. I told them to plead their case, but not present any mayhem.”

Task force members plan to discuss the information they’ve received from the police and fire departments at their upcoming Tuesday meeting in City Hall and then move forward with developing a recommendation. The committee has discussed possibly needing an extension from their original deadline of Aug. 2.

“I don’t envy what you guys are trying to do,” Greene told task force members. “I know it’s a tough call.”