An Open Letter to City Council & the City Manager
Updated: Aug 24, 2021
Our city is growing. Why isn't the Fire Department?
Dear Mayor Whipple, City Council members and City Manager Layton,
I am writing this letter in hopes of communication and understanding from the Wichita Firefighters Local 135's 400 members.
The last year has been a trying time for our country and our local community as a whole. As I'm sure you are well aware of, it doesn't seem to be letting up anytime soon. Our community has suffered through this pandemic and continues to deal with health challenges as well as financial challenges. The members of the Wichita Fire Department were on the front lines of this pandemic, answering the call for the citizens we serve and the City of Wichita as a whole.
From the beginning, Firefighters have been at the front of the pandemic response planning;
setting up a response task force with state, county and federal entities to better respond to this historic event. Wichita Firefighters were on the front lines, deconning Wichita emergency vehicles, along with County EMS vehicles. We clean and disinfect every emergency vehicle that comes in contact with a suspected Covid patient or citizen. Wichita Fire members also answer the call to every medical event that includes suspected Covid symptoms without fail, not knowing if we were the next person to get the virus. This added stress comes along organically in responding to fires, car accidents, industrial accidents, natural weather events that Wichita Firefighters do every day.
We never gave up, we never gave in, and we won't. It is our commitment to this city and the citizens we are honored to serve.
For several years, the Wichita budget has not responded to the growing importance and responsibility that this job entails. We have gradually fallen behind when it comes to the financial responsibility and commitment a safe, first class city requires; and, at the end of the day, citizens want safety as a top priority of its leadership. We have seen in the Sedgwick County EMS situation, what happens when government leaders do not listen to these hard facts. It resulted in an almost complete failure and break down of a vital and irreplaceable service to our community.
Historically speaking, the Wichita fire budget has treaded water. It has not kept up with the number of fire stations, nor the upkeep of current stations, that we need for an expanding city. The number of firefighters, and competitive pay to attract them, has also lagged behind.
These are the issues that must be addressed now. These cannot wait. We continue to have a major service gap in west and southwest Wichita that has been put off for years. Alarm response numbers continue to sink and injury rates have increased. Our 4 minute minimum response time has remained under the recorded goal of 52%.
We have remained at an average of meeting that goal only 34% of the time. This response time rate is even less than the reported EMS response times that led to a 3 day report in our local news paper.
Service matters to our citizens and it becomes a matter of life or death.
Wichita continues to rank low in fire budget spending compared to many comparable cities in our region. For instance, Wichita ranks:
11% lower in pay to a 1 year member of the fire department in pay.
27% lower in members with 6 years of service.
23.7% lower with 11 years of service.
Wichita never reaches average for these cities after 11 years of service
Last year, the Wichita firefighter also ranked lowest on firefighters per capita when compared to Kansas City, Kansas, Tulsa, Omaha, Kansas City, Missouri, and Oklahoma City:
Kansas City, Kansas 1 per 472 citizens
Kansas City, Missouri, 1 per 376 citizens
Oklahoma City, 1 per 741 citizens
Tulsa, 1 per 559 citizens.
Omaha, Nebraska 1 per 634 citizens
Wichita, 1 per 935 citizens
In a city council meeting in August of this year, the number one mission of the Wichita City Manager's Office was said to be the safety of the City. Currently, the Wichita Fire Department budget does not meet that commitment.
A staffing increase of zero though 2023 does not meet that commitment. Staffing levels that fall below safe, national guidelines does not meet that commitment. We request budgetary allocations and a plan to increase funding for more Firefighters in service of Wichita.
It is our hope that you will listen to the members who are on the streets answering alarms, fighting the fires and responding to medical alarms (hampered by a depleted EMS system). It is our goal to make this the safest city in the Midwest and ultimately the nation. We cannot do that without your help and understanding. Please consider not settling for less, which this year's budget is.
Local 135 President