Support surges for S. Hutch fire service as city rejects cost-saving measures

By Adam Stewart
Hutchinson News – May 23, 2017

Photo by Lindsey Bauman

South Hutchinson residents who attended a town hall meeting Monday night overwhelmingly told their City Council that saving $42 or $75 in property taxes a year wasn’t worth lowering the level of service provided by South Hutchinson Fire Department, and the council agreed.

At the end of the meeting, the council voted unanimously to maintain the current status quo at the fire department while continuing to review incremental changes as needed.

Background

The town hall was the culmination of months of discussion regarding the fire department’s future. By the time the council convened the meeting, it had already eliminated its two most extreme options from consideration – going to a full-time professional department at one end and scrapping the department and contracting with Hutchinson for fire protection at the other end.

South Hutchinson uses a hybrid model for its fire department, having three part-time paid firefighters on duty from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days a week, while volunteer firefighters cover the other hours. That system was implemented because the department didn’t have enough volunteers available to respond to calls during the work day.

Options

In addition to the current system, under which the department has a budget of a bit over $400,000, City Administrator Matt Stiles laid out two options that would cost the city less but would result in a lower level of service.

Reducing paid staffing to two people, Monday through Friday, and paying volunteers a token amount to be on-call and available during the weekend was estimated to save about $85,000 per year, which amounts to about $42 in property taxes on a $100,000 house. Returning to an all-volunteer department, as South Hutchinson was before 2014, was estimated to save about $153,000 a year, or $75 in property taxes on a $100,000 house.

Discussion

The majority of audience members who spoke at the meeting favored retaining the status quo.

Lowana Morawitz, who said she lives in the high-rise behind the former Alco, said the fire department is invaluable to the people who live in the high rise, many of whom have disabilities and often need medical assistance.

”We need these people,” Morawitz said. “I feel secure knowing we have a fire department here.”

Terry David, who leads the county emergency medical service, said South Hutchinson firefighters are an excellent part of the team on medical emergencies, and they often are the first on the scene. The earlier response can be the difference between a patient surviving or not.

Fire Capt. Kaleb Albarado said the difference between having two or three firefighters on duty determines whether firefighters can enter a burning building to make a rescue. One person always has to man the truck and keep water pumping, but if only two people respond, the other person can’t go into the building alone.

Audience member John Van Bruggen said fire departments, like ambulance services, don’t make money. They exist solely to provide a necessary service.

”We’re talking about lives,” he said. “We can’t go backwards.”

Audience poll

Near the end of the meeting, Mayor Pete Murray asked the audience to indicate their preference for the fire department’s direction by a show of hands. The vast majority favored keeping the department’s current status, with three paid staff during daytime hours and volunteers at night.

Almost nobody raised their hands in favor of reducing staffing or returning to an all-volunteer department.

 

Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
http://www.ksffa.com
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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