KC needs new fire chief, more efficient department
The Kansas City Star
The resignation of fire chief Smokey Dyer on Wednesday — plus a recent $4.5 million federal grant — will provide Kansas City with two crucial opportunities to upgrade its Fire Department.
The city will hire a new chief to replace Dyer, who had held the position for almost 12 years.
City Manager Troy Schulte says he will conduct a national search for the best replacement. He said there are some “exceptional folks out there” who could help the city improve coordination between its firefighting and emergency medical response duties. One key goal should be to improve ambulance response times, which often have lagged since the Fire Department’s unnecessary takeover of medical responses two years ago.
Unfortunately, Dyer couldn’t or wouldn’t move forward with enough changes to save money and use innovative ways to make his agency’s services more efficient.
The city is gearing up to decide how to spend $4.5 million over the next two years, which the federal government will send Kansas City for the Fire Department.
That money won’t be used to add firefighters to keep open two fire stations — properly scheduled for closure by the City Council — if Schulte’s argument prevails.
His reasonable plan is to use the so-called SAFER grant (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) to pay for several dozen current firefighters, so the city does not have to cut any deeper than than the 30 or so spots already scheduled for elimination, a decision endorsed by the council.
That move would free up general fund money now used to pay for some firefighters’ salaries. The city then could spend its general revenues to help plan solid reforms of how the Fire Department fights fires and responds to emergency medical calls.
But Schulte’s proposal could set up a fight with fire union president Mike Cambiano, who told The Star this week, “It’s my hope that they’ll keep the stations open.”
Mayor Sly James backs Schulte, which is consistent with the mayor’s belief that short-term funding such as the grant should not be used to add city employees.
Schulte needs to hire a well-qualified new chief who’s not afraid to make big changes.
And the City Council ought to support Schulte in how he wants to use the SAFER grant to find the best ways to bolster the Fire Department and better protect Kansas Citians.