Wichita union says firefighter staffing is risk to safety

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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) The Wichita Firefighters Union says reduced staffing is risking your safety, but the fire chief and mayor disagree.

IAFF Local 135 put out a post Monday morning and another this weekend stating four units were out of service because of self-imposed budget cuts. The post encouraged people to contact the mayor.

Mayor Jeff Longwell responded on his Facebook page about an hour later commenting that Wichita just received the best fire safety rating. He also addressed the union's claim.

"In regard to claims that we are shutting down department units, we are continually evaluating the best use of resources and always meeting the needs of of our safety standards while being the best possible fiscal stewards of your taxpayer dollars," reads the post.

IAFF Local 135 President, Matt Schulte, says lower staffing levels should worry people.

"It's like playing craps, you're rolling the dice and you hope the big call doesn't come in, the high-rise fire, the grass fires all over the county, so yes, they should be worried. Why make the cuts now?” said Schulte.

Fire Chief Tammy Snow says in 2017, the Wichita Fire Department nearly had a budget fail because of staff hours so they watch overtime, but she says the reduced numbers didn't leave the public in danger.

"We didn't compromise safety and we also didn't compromise service, we have NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) that tells you that every apparatus runs four. What we did was put the fourth person on that apparatus, so we're in better alignment with best practices throughout the nation than the way our current deployment is,” said Snow.

"We do have 117 minimum staffing in our contract that the city manager and mayor and myself signed, this is about keeping our citizens safe,” said Schulte.

Snow says the city's top fire rating takes staffing into account.

"They only gave us credit for 114.9 personnel, so with the 117, we're in excess of that," she said.

The firefighter's union is proposing a .25-percent tax hike to improve funding.

"We want to hear from the citizens. If the citizens say no, then that's fine but if the citizen's say yes, that's who we serve,” said Schulte.

"We're always interested in more people and more money, but other than that I don't have a comment,” said Snow.

The public will get the chance to weigh in when the city holds its social media budget town hall meeting on Thursday.