Local firefighters union to push for more firefighters, new station

photo by: Nick Krug

In this file photo from Oct. 1, 2014, Capt. Brandon Holloman. left, firefighter Trey Strohm, and engineers Jason Ray and Aaron Payne, far right, work to dry off Engine 1 outside Firehouse No. 1 in downtown Lawrence.

Government leaders can expect to be hearing more from the local firefighters union about increasing Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical’s staffing levels.

The Lawrence Professional Firefighters, Local 1596 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, announced in a news release Tuesday that it would begin focusing its efforts to “secure an increase to fire department resources,” including the number of firefighters and fire stations.

LPF Secretary Seamus Albritton told the Journal-World that the LPF’s main concern is that the number of firefighters and stations has not kept up with the growth of the city. He said emergency calls have increased about 40 percent since the last station, Fire Station No. 5, was added in 2006.

“So, basically, we are asking the same work force from over a decade ago to do almost 40 percent more,” Albritton said. “We want to be able to maintain proper safety for the citizens of Lawrence, and that’s why we are going to start advocating for this.”

Albritton said the LPF came to its decision over the past week after reviewing the fire department’s 2018 accreditation report and department assessments from last year, which note the increase in emergency calls and that response times are slowing. Responses to medical calls measure well over nine minutes, and one of the accreditation report’s recommendations was that the department continue its efforts to add a station in the northwest area of the city.

The LPF announcement also notes that simultaneous emergencies are becoming more common. Albritton said that just in the past month, multiple large-scale emergencies have happened at the same time, making it difficult for fire and medical staff to meet the department’s response-time benchmarks and, at times, necessitating assistance from other municipalities.

The LPF announcement states that the city has “repeatedly denied” the fire chief’s recommendations to increase department staffing and that the LPF is prepared to work with the city and the fire department to increase resources to an “appropriate level.”

As part of the city’s 2019 budget process that concluded earlier this month, the department requested 11 additional fire and medical positions. That request would have cost about $1.04 million, and the additional positions were not ultimately approved. The department currently has 149 staff members, according to the city’s 2019 budget documents.

Regarding what the new effort will entail, Albritton said that the LPF planned to research the issue further and begin advocating for more resources for the fire and medical department. He said the LPF’s efforts would include a public education campaign and a push for increased funding.

“We want all the citizens, as well as those that are involved with the city government, to just be aware of this issue,” Albritton said. “This is something that we don’t want the community to fall behind in.”

The fire and medical department is jointly funded by the city of Lawrence and Douglas County. Interim Fire Chief Shaun Coffey said that at the direction of City Manager Tom Markus he would be doing a comprehensive review of the funding agreement between the city and county. He said that once that review was complete, he would be bringing the topic to the City Commission for discussion. Ultimately, he said the plan was to have a meeting with the county regarding the funding agreement but that meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Fire Chief Mark Bradford died in July, and Coffey has been interim chief since then. The city has not made any announcements regarding the hiring of a new chief.


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