‘Belittling and name-calling’: KCK interim fire chief writes letter to firefighters about being ‘under attack’ by county government

Fire department report

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Interim Kansas City, Kan., Fire Chief Kevin Shirley sent a letter to all firefighters on Friday, telling them the fire department is under attack, but that firefighters will continue to “serve, protect and sacrifice.”

“That is what we do,” he said.

He said he also feels personally attacked and believes former fire chiefs have also been personally attacked over the ‘trade time’ or shift-trading report by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.

Tensions flared during a Thursday night meeting called by outgoing Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Mark Holland to address a recent audit of the KCK Fire Department and its shift trading practices that  Holland says is costing the taxpayers money, lining the pockets of some firefighters and putting safety of firefighters and citizens at risk.

A view of the special meeting to address an audit of the KCK Fire Department.

An audience made up of largely firefighters attended the brief meeting, where Holland discussed the audit. The key points of the audit he highlighted in Thursday’s meeting include the following:

  • Holland said the audit found nearly a million dollars was paid to firefighters who did not work the appropriate amount of hours to earn the money.
  • Holland said the audit found shift trading often occurs between people of unequal ranks in the department, which could result in people who are under-trained leading shifts or driving trucks.
  • Holland said the audit found paying colleagues to work shifts can result in people who are tired responding to critical calls, which puts them at a higher risk for injury. Any potential workers compensation suits would have to be paid by taxpayers.

Watch comments from fire and government officials in the video below. Click here to watch the full meeting, which Fox 4 livestreamed Thursday night.

Bob Wing with the local firefighters union said these claims are entirely false.

“The firefighters are somewhat being victimized for living by the rules,” Wing said. “There were no violations of any agreed-upon rules that relate to this issue.”

He went on to say other claims made by the mayor regarding this audit are false and that it’s insulting that Holland is making these claims.

“There are no taxpayer dollars involved here,” Wing said. “That’s voodoo. I’ve been on record in my years in the department. There have been no reports to my office of firefighters being fatigued because they’re utilizing our shift trades. If there were, then I would have addressed them.”

Wing didn’t want to address comments his son made earlier in the day on social media, suggesting Holland needed to have extra security  if Holland was going to start a ‘witch hunt’.

Wing did say he has retained legal council, and that this likely won’t be the end of the issue.

“When this is all said and done, I have every belief that these issues will be taken up in the courthouse,” he said.

During the meeting, Holland planned to introduce an ordinance he said would help prevent firefighters from getting paid for shifts they didn’t work.

But because only about half of the Wyandotte County Commissioners showed up to the meeting, it couldn’t be recorded as an official meeting and Holland didn’t introduce the ordinance.

Fox 4 asked David Alvey, the incoming mayor who won the November election against Holland for an interview. Instead, he sent a statement because he said he was unavailable on Friday. During his campaign, Alvey criticized Holland for alienating public service employees, and in particular, the Kansas City, Kan., Fire Department.  He said:

It is a gross misstatement to describe the practice of “shift trading” as evidence of widespread corruption in the KCK fire department.  The practice is revenue neutral to the taxpayers of Kansas City, Kansas.  The County Administrator will provide a thorough review of the practice, and if any changes are needed to ensure the public safety of our residents, the Unified Government will enact them.  I simply ask, as incoming Mayor, that all parties take a deep breath, avoid exaggerations and offensive statements, and act as responsible leaders and citizens.

Here is the letter sent to firefighters by Interim Fire Chief Kevin R. Shirley:

“To all members of the Kansas City Kansas Fire Department:

“I want to assure you that I, as current Interim Chief, give no credence to any of the name calling and belittling that has gone on regarding the Trade Time issue. I view it as a personal attack on me and all of the former chiefs as well as all Fire Department members, past and present.

“Firefighters within the KCKFD have complied with all rules, policies and procedures that have been put in place by the Fire Department. There is no wrong doing by the firefighters with regards to the trading of time.

“We will continue to serve, protect and sacrifice for our community and residents. That is what we do.

Sincerely,

Kevin R. Shirley
Interim Fire Chief”