KCK city leaders at odds with firefighters amid possible plans to close fire stations

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- There has been a battle brewing for years between the Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.

At issue is the struggle of how to best protect the city while keeping costs within the budget.

Robert Wing, a fire captain and official with the Firefighter's Union says he agrees with most of a 2015 study of the KCK Fire Department commissioned by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, but is concerned about a couple of aspects, most notably the future locations and number of fire stations in the city.

“The evolution of the fire department has to track somewhat the evolution of this city,” said Wing, “The mayor has made continual statements that there are too many other stations downtown and too many firefighters downtown and there is too few out West. Well, the later statement is obvious."

County Commissioners have recommended a new fire station be built in Piper, and Wing says that is going to happen but worries about other stations closing and consolidating.

"You don't build that new station and abandon the core," said Wing.

The study recommends closing a number of fire stations in the North and South parts of KCK.

"I believe the mayors intent is to follow the recommendations of a consultant who recommended that up to 5 fire companies and 4 or 5 fire stations be eliminated downtown," Wing said.

Mayor Mark Holland said in a statement, "Any discussion of additional fire stations and/or closures would be premature and irresponsible. This has been an ongoing public conversation for the last two years."

Besides the 2015 study, the Unified Government put together a committee made up of top brass at the KCK Fire Department and Local 64 to make their recommendations about how best to protect the citizens of KCK. The report which is due by the end of the year.

Wing is concerned about statements he says Mayor Holland has made about reducing the size of the fire department before that study is has been completed.

"The public needs to know and we are going to be letting the public know. Not only do they have the need to know we have the obligation to tell them," said Wing.

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Mayor Holland’s full statement is below:

I am very excited about the work the Unified Government is doing to improve public safety. In addition, I am especially pleased with our efforts to protect the safety of our first responders, men and women who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe.
To this end, I have overseen the first-ever, comprehensive studies in Fire, Police, and Sheriff that are directing our forward progress to improve the safety for our employees and our citizens. All three public safety departments have seen a 5% increase in pay over the last 3 years, the largest in a decade. By strategically managing resources, we are improving public safety and making essential capital upgrades while still reducing the city tax rate.
Here’s what we’re doing to improve public safety in each department:

Fire Department:
--In 2015, a consultant, Facets, completed a study of our fire operations and made preliminary recommendations to the UG, which include building a new fire station in Piper. This station is due to be completed in 2018.

The study also shows that many of our stations are in deplorable condition and we plan to build more while realigning and strengthening our coverage to better suit our growing and changing population. We assigned a task force of fire union, fire command staff, and UG administration to evaluate all of the Facets’ recommendations and come back to the governing body by the end of this year. Any discussion of additional fire stations and/or closures would be premature and irresponsible. This has been an ongoing public conversation for the last two years.

--The new 2018 fire station in Piper (Hutton Road and Leavenworth Road) to fill a hole in coverage.
--10 of our 22 fire trucks have been replaced in the last 4 years.
--All 16 of our ambulances have been replaced in the last 4 years.

Police Department:
--We have opened 2 new police stations in the last 4 years.
--We have replaced all 100 patrol cars in the last 4 years.
--We have replaced all the patrol motorcycles in the last 4 years.
--We are moving forward with body cameras in 2018.

Sheriff’s Department:
--New $24 million Juvenile facility 2018
--Behavioral health services for families
--Prevention services to keep our kids from entering the criminal justice system.

In addition, in 2014 I invited the Department of Justice to assist the Unified Government in analyzing the recruitment, hiring, and promotion policies in public safety. I convened a 40- person task force consisting of citizens, union representatives, and staff members. This group brought 30+ recommendations to the Board of Commissioners who approved them on an 8-1 vote. We have worked to incorporate all of the recommendations into the union contracts and human resources practices. You can see more information here.