KC's new fire chief must focus on better ways to save lives
The Kansas City Star
Kansas City’s new fire chief must focus on how to best keep the community safe at a reasonable cost to taxpayers. Paul Berardi, appointed this week by City Manager Troy Schulte, is taking over at a critical time for his department.
With fire calls down and emergency medical calls up, one of Berardi’s priorities will be to provide faster, more effective medical responses with ambulances plus fire apparatus staffed with cross-trained firefighters.
One key to an improved Fire Department is completing a long-desired strategic plan, then putting in place the best ideas that emerge.
Berardi — along with Schulte, Mayor Sly James and the City Council — should be careful in choosing consultants and goals as that study begins. This is an important moment for the department. Berardi needs to work with the local fire union but not kowtow to it in designing the strategic plan.
“I will look at the hard questions,” Berardi said this week. “There are no sacred cows.”
Firefighters already are upset about possible changes in their pensions, which city officials have been working on for almost two years. Meanwhile, the union wants to keep as many members as possible on the public payroll, especially after Schulte last year succeeded in the first trim in the agency’s workforce.
“We are a partnership,” Berardi said of the fire staff and the union. But he added, “It’s not like a love fest around here.”
Kansas Citians deserve an adequately staffed Fire Department. However, the roles played by firefighters have changed dramatically in recent years. They will evolve even more, partly because older buildings are being replaced by newer ones with more fire-safety features. That puts even more focus on how well the department performs on its emergency medical services calls.
The city is pursuing several pilot programs to improve ambulance response times. Berardi says he wants to more efficiently use current resources, not necessarily ask for more feet on the ground or new equipment.
Given the city’s stretched financial resources, that shows a good sense of priorities by the new chief.