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Source: Kokomo Tribune

Staffing changes leave Kokomo Fire Department with one rescue truck

By Martin Slagter and Lauren Fitch-Slagter

A shift in how the Kokomo Fire Department is staffed and responds to calls has some firefighters worried they will not have access to all the equipment they need.

City officials, however, maintain there will be no change in the quality of service provided or the staff available to respond to emergencies.

As of Monday morning, the squad of rescue truck No. 2, located at 508 E. Center Road, was decommissioned, leaving the KFD with one rescue truck still on the road. The department also has six fire engines, one at each of its six stations.

A rescue truck carries a variety of equipment not found on traditional fire engines, such as tools for forcible entry, rope rescue equipment, Jaws of Life, fans for ventilation, a generator to run extra saws, extra ladders, lights and extra air tanks. A fire engine carries hoses and related equipment, some saws, tools and one or two ladders.

“This [rescue truck] carries a multitude of equipment. … Right now, we don’t have that,” said Rick Daily, president of the Kokomo Firefighters Local 396 union. “We’re sending the same amount of guys with [fewer] vehicles and less equipment to do our job.

“There’s nothing on those rescue trucks that’s [unnecessary] equipment we don’t need,” he added. “We use it all the time.”

City administration stressed the department still will have the same amount of manpower, but it will be used a different way, noting the city has added two new fire stations to strategically cover more ground within the city limits since 2012. The city also annexed in 12 square miles that included another 11,500 residents during that period.

The reason for the shift in staffing was the amount of overtime KFD was logging, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said. The city has spent $130,000 on overtime for the department since the beginning of 2014. In comparison, the department spent $93,000 in overtime through the month of June in 2013, and $116,000 on department overtime in 2012.

“The fact that our firefighters only work nine days a month, and then with vacation and personal time average seven days of work a month, created an environment of embedded overtime,” Goodnight said. “This, compounded with the desire of the firemen to take vacation primarily from May through September as the peak period, has added to mandated overtime.”

Daily has worked for KFD for 32 years and is likely impacted most by the decision to shift staffing, as he drove rescue truck No. 2. He’s among nine employees who will now be floating among stations to help cover shifts.

Recently appointed Fire Chief Nick Glover said the move will not change the type of service the fire department can provide.

“Every fire station has a fire engine in it, except for station 1, which has a fire engine and an accompanying rescue truck,” Glover said. “All of the trucks are manned the same and aren’t staffed differently than before.

“There was a second rescue truck at station 2 that we still have,” he added. “We just spread the manpower on the engines instead of keeping them on that [rescue] truck. We shifted staffing.”

Glover pointed out the city utilized a similar strategy for responding to calls under former Mayor Jim Trobaugh between 1995 and 2003, when the department had just one rescue truck.

“We are going back to fire engines making '10-50s,' or car-accident calls,” he said. “The way that it’s been done the last several years is that the rescue trucks did that. We’re reverting back to a past practice.”

Daily pointed out Kokomo's population and the area within city limits was smaller when Trobaugh was mayor. He worries the department will not be prepared if there are two calls at the same time that would require a rescue truck.

“As soon as you start losing trucks, your percentage goes way down of being able to cover the city,” he said. “It’s the wrong thing to do.”

Glover contends the fire department’s role will not change, regardless of what type of calls it receives at any given time.

“If you have a fire, you’re going to get the exact same number of trucks and the exact same number of people responding,” he said.

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