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Source: Kokomo Perspective

Fire department mothballs rescue truck

For nearly 50 years, the Kokomo Fire Department operated two rescue trucks to protect the city. With one stationed north and another south, these specialized service vehicles responded to vehicle accidents and fires alike.

But the city administration has decided that overtime costs have risen too high to continue operating both vehicles. Two weeks ago, Rescue No. 2 was taken out of service. According to Chief Nick Glover, the change will greatly improve the department’s bottom line.

“We just thought the manpower we had could be better used elsewhere,” said Glover. “We are on a path to go way over budget on overtime. We had $180,000 budgeted, and as of today (July 24), I’m at $161,000 spent.

“This was an issue for the administration, and we were tasked with coming up with a way to head it off. This was the best option available. It’s always nice to have more an better. I’d like to have 20 fire trucks and 200 guys and a fire station on every corner, but it’s not fiscally reasonable.”

Glover contended that the move will prevent the department from exceeding its $180,000 overtime budget -- an impressive feat considering the department spent $277,500 in overtime in 2013.

“The way we’ve been operating, this overtime is spent just to staff the apparatus,” said Glover. “With this change, staying under $180,000 is my goal, though a lot of factors come into play with contractual time off and sick leave.”

The rescue truck carries specialized equipment for forcible entry, ventilation fans, air packs, extrication equipment, ladders, and lighting. It also carries water to the scene. In essence, it is a utility truck. It now sits in storage at Fire Station No. 6. That’s the last place Rick Daily, president of Fire Fighters Local 396 and the former driver for Rescue No. 2, wants it to be.

Daily believes that removing the truck from service will jeopardize public safety, and he isn’t mincing words about it. He took to social media to plead his case, launching a Facebook page for the union and criticizing the city administration for its actions.

“I’m upset because it is a fire truck being shut down in a city this size,” said Daily. “Shutting it down puts firefighters’ lives at risk and citizens at risk. It’s been here 50 years, and all of a sudden they’ve decided we don’t need it. But the size of the city is much larger than it was 50 years ago. We actually need another rescue truck. I never would have done this; it is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.

“If there is a wreck out here now, an engine company responds. It has no extrication equipment. They have water, but if someone is trapped or the car is inverted, they have to call once they get to the scene to dispatch the rescue unit from downtown.”

Glover disagrees with Daily’s assertion and explained that he has taken the steps necessary to maintain public safety and evenly distribute services at a lower cost.

“The rescue responded mainly to car accidents,” said Glover. “We switched that to the fire engines, which is a past practice. The equipment the rescue carried is now on the engines, though not to the extent that it was with the rescue. And Rescue No. 1 is stocked to the hilt. It has everything it needs. We also have trailers with specialty equipment we can haul if needed.

“They will be able to take care of 90 percent of the calls, but if there is an inverted vehicle, there will be dual response from the closest engine and the heavy rescue truck from downtown. Everybody in the city has the exact same coverage. No one is getting something the other is not.”

Daily said he met with Glover to try to stop the move, but was unsuccessful. The fact that the move was made to save money elicited a bitter response from the union head.

“It’s about the money,” said Daily. “Not one person in the city should be happy about this -- even the people who did it. I’ve not talked to one firefighter who agrees with this move, including the chiefs. They put a $180,000 price tag on the citizens of Kokomo and the fire department.

“You can pay for a $6 million parking garage that hasn’t had a car in it. You paid off two fire stations. You’re building an $11 million baseball diamond in a flood plain. By comparison this is chump change. To put this price tag on people’s heads is absurd.”

Daily was particularly displeased that the move wasn’t discussed during the recent contract negotiations between the city and the union.

“They’d been working on this for about six weeks,” said Daily. “Maybe they could have brought it up during contract negotiations. They never mentioned it. It’s so underhanded. We try to negotiate in good faith, while we get threatened with layoffs.”

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