A panel of firefighters, fire chiefs and investigators met for the first time Tuesday to oversee how the state provides training for firefighters.
The Fire Service Training Commission was created by the Kansas Legislature this year, but members say they'll need to fight for funding provided by the Legislature for training services through Kansas University Continuing Education.
"Today really is a historic moment," said Glenn Pribbenow, director of KU's Fire Service Training program. "We're very excited about what can come from this commission."
The commission was created at the request of an alliance of fire service organizations. The group wanted to increase funding for fire training and establish a body to oversee training.
The Legislature also for the first time included $750,000 in the state budget for fire training. Legislators also promised $750,000 for next year.
Pribbenow told the commission during its meeting at the Adams Alumni Center that the extra money would allow KU to have more classes throughout the state. He also said he temporarily has decreased fees for classes and made some free.
However, he said, the commission would need to discuss the fee structure. One commissioner, Darrell Eastin of the Kansas State Association of Professional Fire Chiefs, said he wasn't sure the free classes were in the best interest of the training service.
"I'm a little concerned about that being done prematurely," he said. "I'm not sure we've agreed it should all be free."
Pribbenow said budget cuts could pose a risk to KU's fire training. JoAnn Smith, vice provost and dean of continuing education at KU, said KU administrators hadn't reduced the $200,000 the training program receives from KU during their first rounds of budget cuts this year. The program's total budget, including money directly from the state and grants, is about $1.2 million.
However, Smith said she expected that money to be cut if KU faced more budget reductions this fiscal year.
"We've been very concerned about trying to protect this money," she said.
Gale Haag, from the Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office, told fellow commissioners not to count on the $750,000 promised by the Legislature for the next two years.
"The people who guaranteed it can take it away, and they have in the past," he said.