WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Two different Sedgwick County commissioners Tuesday called the county fire department a “house of cards.”
“It could crumble,” said commissioner Jim Howell. “We need to fix the problem. If we don’t, we may not have a department in 20 years.”
That issue is the department running to fires where people are not taxed but still get service.
“I feel the fire department does a great job. We are very good,” Howell said. “So, how do you find efficiencies? How do you find more money for the paychecks without raising taxes?”
Howell remains adamant that firefighters deserve a raise, but there is the issue of the department spending resources to the point it strains services. Some county commissioners on Tuesday also called out fire leadership for not finding a way to get more money into the system.
“What would happen is, you all need to update your resumes if that happens,” said Commissioner David Dennis. “Because if we lost Maize, it’s a house of cards, and the rest of Fire District Number One is going to follow right behind.”
Dennis says the fire department responds to Maize fires. Maize pays into the system, but Dennis is asking if Maize would consider starting its own fire department, taking the tax money with it.
Other areas of the county that do not pay into the Sedgwick County Fire Department still get the service, even if they are not taxed for the service. Meanwhile, some firefighters with the county say money is a problem.
They need more.
“We do have to raise starting pay as well as fix the pay from those at the bottom,” said Sedgwick County Firefighter Casey Ingalls. “All the way through our line personnel on the floor. Multiple years of not getting raises and our benefits being looked at.”
Ingalls points out the starting pay is $14.26 an hour. He also says they are losing firefighters to better-paying jobs.
“We don’t necessarily have a voice,” said Ingalls. “That is our major frustration right now.”
As the county firefighter union president, Ingalls says the county does not recognize the union at the county level.
“The commissioners, they need to take a look at us as people on the floor and in the fire district,” said Ingalls. “But not so much as us as numbers.”
Meanwhile, Howell says firefighters need better pay.
“They need and deserve better,” said Howell. “And we can all agree on that.”
The county is in the middle of budget planning right now. What happens next is far from decided.
“We need answers on how to get this fixed,” said Howell. “We are definitely working on that.”