WICHITA, Kansas – Sedgwick County fire crews are worried they don’t have enough people to protect everyone because they’re not getting any extra fire-fighters.
Sedgwick County Commissioners decided to freeze the six firefighter openings they have.
This means those positions will remain unfilled until the end of 2015.
After a unanimous 5-to-0 vote, the Sedgwick County Commission passed the $17 million firefighter budget, but that budget does not include filling the six vacant firefighter positions that have been open for much of this year.
“We’re expecting a $700,000 deficit and that’s not acceptable so we had to do something, so we’ve kept six positions open,” said County Manager William Buchanan.
Keeping the positions open will cut the expected deficit to $45,000, but some leaders are concerned if that comes at the cost of firefighter safety.
“Whenever a firefighter is in a burning structure, they require personnel on the outside to operate their equipment and should it be necessary to extract rescue personnel, they are there to do that,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton.
Skelton is concerned that with these open positions, the current fire crews will be stretched too thin.
Firefighters also expressed concern about public safety, saying the reduced man-power could put residents at risk.
Skelton points to the western part of the county, where Station 31 in Andale and Station 39 in Garden Plain have fewer total firefighters, compared to other locations.
“You can build all the fancy fire stations and buy all the fancy fire trucks you want, but if you don’t have the proper fire personnel on those trucks, you’re not going to be able to make a public safety difference,” said Dave Thompson.
Buchanan did add that they will work to form a task force that will consist of upper management of the fire department, union reps and the county manager, among others. The hope is the task force could solve the issue of staffing within the county for future budget years.