Bush addressed the early results from Wichita's recent staffing study showing a department understaffed by over 180 firefighters, where we stack up in competitive pay, and the steps necessary to address these issues in this year's budget process
I’m here this morning as the President of IAFF Local 135, the union for Wichita Firefighters.
As you know, we are currently in contract talks that will affect over 400 of our members here in Wichita, as well as their families.
For many years, compensation for Wichita firefighters has remained stagnant. In the past, this difference was small enough to be tolerated by firefighters. However, that difference has now grown to roughly 30%. We have fallen far behind regional and state averages, which is felt sharply by firefighters and their families, especially now. I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone this, but the cost of living for all of us has increased dramatically in recent years.
Since May we’ve held several contract negotiation sessions with the city administration. This year, that process is more important than ever. We all keenly understand that, not only do we need to make sure these men and women are fairly compensated, but we must also continue to have the ability to recruit and retain new firefighters, too.
Wichita recently hired 18 people for a September recruit class to fill positions. These 18 recruits were hired out of a pool of only 19. 30 years ago when I was hired, I was hired out of a pool of around 400 applicants. Comparable jobs in the private sector are often, financially, more attractive when compared to career firefighter positions. This has always been a challenge and will continue to be. However, today we find ourselves in a situation where other fire departments in the state — and the region, are also more financially attractive than ours. Staying competitive is critical if we are to recruit and retain new firefighters. It is also key to building morale for Wichita’s already dedicated firefighters.
Our fire department is an important part of our infrastructure not only locally, but nationally. It must be supported with appropriate investment in equipment, training, fire stations, administration, and perhaps most importantly, a competitive edge that attracts people to fill its roles.
According to the recent taxpayer-funded staffing study done for the city of Wichita, Levrum, our department is currently short 185 firefighters and 11 fire stations.
How did we get here? How did we get to a point where we are 185 firefighters short or 11 fire stations short? How did we fall so far behind regional standards in competitive compensation? Simply put, we’ve built a fire department around a budget, instead of building a budget around a well-staffed, efficient, and safe fire department.
The difference between the adopted fire budget of last year and the proposed fire budget for this year according to the most recent presentation given to this council is a budget cut of $224,662. We understand that many budget items are represented in capital improvement plans, but these plans do not always materialize. As an example, in the CIP plan from 2021, 34 million dollars was to be spent building 3 new fire stations. As of date, not one shovel of dirt has been moved on these projects. These strategies work on paper but the reality is that our department is in a critical state, now — today.
In closing, I want to thank each of you Council, and Mayor Whipple, for your continued support. It has been well received and appreciated by the over 400 members of Wichita Firefighters Local 135. It’s refreshing and it’s encouraging.
This year, we can and must do better. Together, we can solve these issues facing not just us, but all of Wichita.
This is the time — this year, this budget.
You can view President Bush's comments, as well as the rest of the meeting here