KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Tensions between the Kansas City, Kansas mayor and local firefighters hit a boiling point on Thursday afternoon in a battle that’s been brewing for years.
Robert Wing is a fire captain and official with the Local 64 Firefighter's Union. He says, he and other firefighters are ticked off that Mayor Mark Holland has repeatedly made statements about cutting the fire department in public settings.
“[Holland said] there are too many fire trucks, there are too many firefighters and there are too many fire stations in this community, and we`re going to right size the fire department,” said Wing.
Hearing these comments, almost on a regular basis, is part of what Wing says led firefighters demonstrate.
“The mayor over the last period of months if not year has been out beating us up in the community. He did it as late as last week and we`ve heard enough,” Wing explained.
On Thursday afternoon Mayor Holland addressed media at the same time this demonstration took place down below.
“The protest organized today by fire union leadership, is a display of political theater. The unions leadership has made false claims about the Unified Governments process, in order to stir up fear ahead of the November 7th mayoral election,” said Holland.
Holland goes on to explain that any comments or actions taken thus far have been based on a 2015 report released by a third-party that the UG and KCK Fire Union jointly selected. He says, that study found some parts of KCK had too many fire stations, while newer areas of the city didn’t have enough. He says a new taskforce has been formed to follow up that study.
“This [demonstration] surprises me because the union is actively participating in a taskforce that includes the fire command staff and the administration. This taskforce is charged with determining how best to reallign our fire coverage in response to shifting population densities.
Mayor Holland thinks this is in part political move by the firefighters union. The union endorses David Alvey as a candidate, who also attended this protest.
“It`s a sad state of affairs when our first responders have to hold a protest in order to get their message across to the mayor and to the city,” said Alvey.
Union representatives say this is not about politics, it’s about protecting residents of KCK.
“You take a little pride in what you’re doing, that’s what this is all about. The timing is what it is,” said Holland.
And that is one thing, in a way, both parties agree on: protecting citizens is the top priority.
Public Safety, Police, Fire and Sheriff Departments make up more than 60% of the UG budget, with the fire department having the largest budget of any department at $56.1 million.
The Unified Government put together a committee made up of KCK Fire Department leaders and Local 64 representatives to make recommendations. The report is due by the end of the year.