KSN Investigates: Confusion over new Wichita Fire Department roles

KSN Investigates

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The City of Wichita reportedly doesn’t have available spots for some recruits who are training to be firefighters. KSN confirmed that the City of Wichita was indeed planning on letting Sedgwick County borrow the new firefighter recruits to work with the county’s EMS. We started asking questions about it, and some say it is just a misunderstanding.

Eight Wichita fire recruits were supposed to graduate from the academy in December and become commissioned firefighters. But the City of Wichita told KSN those plans are on hold because the firefighters who were supposed to retire in December aren’t quite yet ready to retire.

“If you’re in a situation where you have to keep something quiet, something is wrong,” said Ted Bush, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 135.

KSN obtained an internal memo from Sedgwick County EMS from this month, which talks about contingency plans, as our country is still in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

It says in part, “Again, we have been engaged with WFD to address what may become necessary. One contingency we have discussed is to leverage available FD personnel who are licensed and credentialed EMTs but have not been commissioned as firefighters, to assist with staffing transport ambulances, if our own staffing levels became insufficient to maintain operations.”

“I think the city wants to keep it quiet,” Bush said. “I don’t think they want to be transparent about this, and so they hope that it kind of floats through and no one notices. Well, I’m not in for that.”

Bush thinks the city and county want to do this to save money. However, both the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County deny that claim.

“Most of our calls, anyway 70-80% of our calls, are medical calls, so they’ll have a better understanding when we do respond to them once they are commissioned firefighters and respond on a firetruck,” said Wichita Fire Department Battalion Chief Jose Ocadiz.

Ocadiz said the move was about giving the recruits more knowledge and experience on the medical side, and also helping the county fill positions with EMS.

KSN wanted to know: “If the county needs more employees, why isn’t the county hiring, instead of the city just allowing their new employees to essentially get borrowed by the county?”

KSN reached out to Sedgwick County EMS Director Dr. John Gallagher, butnever heard back from him. However, Kate Flavin, the spokesperson for Sedgwick County, did respond. She said the county is not having trouble hiring EMS employees.

Days after the interview with WFD, the City of Wichita sent KSN this statement:

“At this time, there is no plan to take over as EMS drivers. However, WFD and EMS are collaborating to maximize our effectiveness on the frontlines of this pandemic. Being able to drive EMS apparatus is one part of the training our firefighters receive. There may, in the course of emergencies, arise situations in which they would be required to drive EMS vehicles.”

Flavin said the county was only working with the City of Wichita to train its new firefighters. But some, like the firefighters union, question how this contingency plan was going to work. That’s because firefighters work and get paid by the city, but they would’ve worked temporarily for the county. There’s also a pay gap. The starting firefighter salary is $19.12 an hour, compared to the starting EMS salary of $13.30 an hour.-

“The thing is about these young firemen, they dangle the carrot at them and say, ‘You’re going to be a fireman, now don’t you saying nothing. You just get on that ambulance and drive it,’ and they’re going to do it because they want to be firemen,” said Bush.

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