WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The Wichita Firefighter’s Union is raising concern about protecting the core of the city as it continues to grow, but the city said it is taking the necessary steps to make sure the proper tools are in place.
Less than a week ago, the Sedgwick County Courthouse, which is considered a high rise building, caught fire and required a majority of the city’s fire resources to be put out.
While it only took crews less than half an hour to contain the fire, some question the capabilities of the fire department.
A post on social media by the Firefighter’s Union has sparked conversation because of the amount of resources used.
“We had two high rise fires come in at the same time and it completely decimated our fire coverage,” said Ted Bush, president of the Local 135 Firefighter Union. “That should not happen and there are strategies that we can take now, but it takes money.”
Bush served as a firefighter for more than 27 years and said years ago, the stations were placed outside of the downtown area because that’s where a majority of residents were moving, but the demographics are quickly changing.
Fire department officials said while the high-rise types of fires aren’t frequent, they pose a high threat and require a lot more resources than a house fire.
“Though we can’t predict when a crisis may occur, like when we have numerous incidents or large incidents that drawdown resources, we do plan to take steps whenever those types of incidents happen,” said Chief Stuart Bevis, Fire Marshal for the Wichita Fire Department.
Chief Bevis said along with help from surrounding areas, the department will use predictive analytics software to ensure the right pieces are in play. The money for that software came from the city’s budget for 2020.
“We can look at the city as a whole,” said Chief Bevis. “Take in other data like traffic patterns or alarm history so they can start looking at that and say, ‘Hey wait, maybe a station over there should be moved two miles this way.”
Chief Bevis said GPS will also be used to see what other stations are answering calls outside of their call area.
But, those who represent the firefighters said it may be too little too late.
The union is asking for more firefighters, but also additional engines.
“We’re running short right now,” said Bush. “Not six months from now, we are short now. They have to understand that something has to be done with the budget. We can’t run with this type of budget.”
Chief Bevis said the budget for this year also allowed for an additional thirty half positions for adding new recruit classes in a quicker time frame. Bevis said in years past, the department had to wait for a position to be empty to fill it.
The concern for many is how the department will adapt to the quickly growing downtown area, especially with high dollar developments like the new baseball stadium.
“More people can mean more calls,” said Chief Bevis. “It doesn’t always mean more calls. It depends on the situation and the location.”
Chief Bevis said the firefighters did a great job responding to the recent high rise fires and he is confident in his employees.
“It is always the focus of this department and definitely the administration to move us in the right ways to do the best we can for the community,” said Chief Bevis.
The union urges Wichitans to contact city officials to voice their concerns. The group is hoping money to hire more firefighters and engines to better serve the community will be put in a future city budget.
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