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Kan. union complains about firefighters working at community center

Wichita union president said the assignment was mandatory and that it placed citizens at risk of a delayed response

By Matthew Kelly
The Wichita Eagle

WICHITA, Kan. — On-duty Wichita firefighters were recruited to help out with a project at McAdams Park on Tuesday morning, drawing criticism from the president of the fire union.

“Citizens of Midtown and Midtown East. Be advised that response times could be delayed as firefighters have been ‘contracted’ to pick up trash at local parks while on duty,” the union posted to Facebook shortly before 11 a.m.

“If you call 911 for a fire, medical or rescue emergency, please understand that it could be delayed. We will get there as soon as we can.”

City spokesperson Megan Lovely said the project was over by 11 a.m., five hours ahead of schedule, and that leaving fire stations unmanned did not pose any public safety risk because firefighters kept their radios on.

“What they may be referencing is that firefighters were asked to volunteer, if they had time, to help move supplies for the Brewer Community Center,” Lovely said in an email. “Squads 5 ( 8-10 a.m. ), Sq7 ( noon- 2 p.m. ), Sq 6 ( 2-4 p.m. ) volunteered to help at periodic times throughout the day. Engine 1 and Truck 1 also came to help.”

She said at one point, Engine 1 and Truck 1 left to respond to a vehicle accident before returning to finish helping move supplies for the community center, which is undergoing a $13.7 million renovation.

“The firefighters who volunteered to help were happy to do so as it helps their colleagues in serving the community,” Lovely said. “Our hardworking firefighters work to serve the community even when they are not responding to emergencies.”

Union President Ted Bush said helping out at McAdams was a mandatory task — not a volunteer opportunity.

“Fire Chief (Tammy) Snow may have volunteered, but she didn’t go pick up trash and clean out a building. She just sent on-duty firefighters to do it,” Bush said.

“My concern is obviously when you’re deep inside of a building cleaning up or spread across a park, that could delay response times for something that’s really outside of our job description.”

He said at least 15 firefighters and three fire vehicles were stationed at the park, leaving stations one and five unmanned and creating a scenario where crews couldn’t get to the scene of an emergency as quickly as they otherwise would.

“If you have a call to Station One and they’re gone, well Station Two will have to pick up that call, but that’s further away,” Bush said.

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