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A tale of two cities

When it comes to cutbacks, these cities haven't gone far enough

Editor's note: For those who haven't caught on, note the date of publication. Happy April Fools' Day! We hope you enjoyed our series of articles to mark April 1. Check out the full round-up here.

In this topsy-turvy world of fire department cuts, two cities have set my head spinning. Fortunately, I can solve their budget-slashing dilemma.

The first city is Kansas City. I embarrassingly admit I am not sure what state we are talking about. There is a Kansas City, Kan., and a Kansas City, Mo. There is even a North Kansas City. I have never been to that part of the country. It seems confusing to me.

Anyway, there is more smoldering in K.C. than barbeque. The city manager, Troy Schulte, has recommended laying off 105 firefighters. Mr. Schulte is basing this recommendation on the fact that Kansas City has 60 percent fewer fires than 10 years ago.

Photo Will WyattThe Firecycle 2000 is a one-man emergency-response vehicle that has absolutely no firefighting capabilities. However, it supports a developing trend: Firefighters just have to show up.
Photo Will WyattThe Firecycle 2000 is a one-man emergency-response vehicle that has absolutely no firefighting capabilities. However, it supports a developing trend: Firefighters just have to show up.

I find this interesting. I would think of Kansas City as being a major city. The inference from Mr. Schulte is that the KCFD doesn’t fight any fires nowadays.

I did a quick search of a Kansas City TV station website and found two fires, among others. One was a fire on Feb. 4 in which K.C. firefighters rescued a man hanging out a window. On Jan. 9, there was another significant fire at College Ave and St. Catherine’s Lane. Must have been "once in a blue moon," rare occurrences.

However, upon reading a little more on Mr. Schulte’s recommendations, he himself provided a figure: In 2011 the KCFD extinguished 2,582 fires.

More than 2,500 fires!


Now I am sure not all these were houses and buildings, but fires that had to be put out nonetheless. I would hate to hear how this guy describes the reproduction rate of rabbits.

Immediately, Kansas City Fire Chief Smokey Dyer donned his best white uniform shirt and sped to city hall to explain the reason KCFD has folks on fire trucks. There was the usual stuff like two in and two out. The stuff we all know and understand but laypeople have no concept of since most of them have never been in a fire.

But as any good pitch man would say: It gets better.

Mr. Schulte wants to give raises to other city employees who haven’t had raises in three or more years with the money saved in the fire department layoffs.

This is an old financial management ploy known as the “screen door on a submarine" spending strategy. Here, you accessorize your submarine with screen doors at the expense of breathing-air compressors.

Thankfully, I can help the administrators in K.C.

I noticed that the Kansas City mass transit system has park-and-rides located all around the city. Since fires are such a rare occurrence, why not just stage unmanned fire apparatus at park-and-rides and bus firefighters from a central location in the rare event of a fire?

They even provide an email notification service for bus arrival times. This would be essential for emergency responders.

In gratitude for my money-saving idea, maybe Mr. Schulte would spring for bus passes.

Meanwhile, up the road a ways from Kansas City, news has come of more trouble. Grand Rapids, Mich., administrators have instructed the fire chief to reduce costs during the next three years and eliminate 12 positions currently being staffed with SAFER grant money.

The city and fire chief have proposed replacing three regular-size fire apparatus with three mini pumpers staffed with two firefighters per unit.

Ah, the mini pumper.

If my rusted memory serves, Philadelphia did this back in the '70s. They called them TAC units. I think Buffalo ran some in snowstorms also. 

These units have a 300-gpm pump and I am not sure how much water — probably not much more than 300 gallons. Oh, and they also will be equipped with compressed air foam. You know, the stuff developed for wildland firefighting.

The fire service has gone through many phases. Do you remember the ISO craze?

Yes, how we embraced it. We drove through towns with red, white and blue bunting on our trucks. We sat in the hose beds with signs saying, “ISO is the way to go!” People cheered from their front yards and chanted, "ISO! ISO!" Children ran along the sidewalks in ISO T-shirts. Fire truck salesmen got rich. Gas was cheap. It was a euphoric time.

But wait!

Stop the music!

Isn’t a big part of ISO how much water you can deliver and how many people you have? So, that doesn’t matter anymore?

You can "what if" something to death. You probably have a "what if" guy at your station. "What if a 747 crashed into an orphan bus? We won’t have enough backboards."

Mark my words this will happen. The Johnny-and-Roy-mobile will arrive first at a substantial fire and the next-in pumper will not be there.

Perhaps Grand Rapids has an ordinance prohibiting more than one emergency at a time. If not, the next-in pumper will be on an EMS call or out of service with a flat tire. It will happen.

The fire chief in Grand Rapids, Laura Knapp, is in a bad situation. She, much like Chief Dyer, has been unfairly put in the unenviable position of possibly having to lay off firefighters and still make the fire department work. To Chief Knapp’s credit, she is trying to come up with an innovative solution.

However, the fire chief works for the city administration. They city administration can tell the fire chief what has to be done. Many a fire chief has hung it up or been told to hang it up because they would not do what the city wanted.

Speaking of innovation, I have had an idea, which city governments everywhere will embrace. I call it the Firecycle 2000 — dealer inquiries welcome.

The FC2000 is a one-man emergency-response vehicle that has absolutely no firefighting capabilities. However, it supports a trend I see developing: We just have to show up.

The FC2000's benefits are overwhelming. First off, only one person is needed to staff it. Think of the budget savings.

The cost of operation is virtually nothing, just an occasional tire or chain. Maintenance and fuel costs are eliminated. Firefighters are exercising, contributing to their health and wellness and reducing sick time.

A city can even champion that they have gone green. "We aren’t spraying diesel fumes all over town with those silly fire trucks," a proud mayor can crow.

City councils all over the country will be doing backflips in council chambers, yelling, “Cowabunga!”

Yes, I am anticipating a flood of thank-you letters from mayors and municipal leaders from sea to shining sea. In fact, I fully anticipate some civic leaders will want to reward me with a portion of their windfalls.

To that, I must respectfully decline all offers of cash, and ask that they instead make a contribution to the Keep Former Politicians in the Lavish Lifestyle they so Deserve fund. Because in the end, it is important to give back to those who gave so much.

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