Archive for Thursday, September 4, 2003

Fire, police use budget, volunteers as solutions

September 4, 2003

The Eudora Fire Department is again starting its recruitment campaign, looking for volunteers to join the force. Fire Chief Spencer McCabe said he hoped to add another 10 volunteers to the force; last year's six recruits will graduate from training in December.
Volunteers must be 18 years old or older and live or work in the city of Eudora to be eligible. More information can be found at www.eudorafire.org or by calling 542-3653. Applications are available and can be dropped off at Eudora City Hall, 4 E. Seventh St., or at the fire station, 840 Main St.
Although McCabe appreciates the work volunteers do, he is also asking for a full-time firefighter to come on board, an item on the pending city budget, which the Eudora City Council plans to vote on Monday.
"Volunteers come in, do time, and go back home to their families," he said. "It's hard enough to get volunteers."
Factors playing into the request include the increasing number of calls coming into the department -- from about 50 per year in the mid 1990s to 82 from January to August 2003 -- most of which McCabe said he worked on his own.
"That's the most scary thing -- being on a call by yourself," he said.
Many volunteers were out of town during the daytime with their jobs, he said, and those who worked in town weren't always immediately available. Because of rules governing the way firefighters work, McCabe said it would be most beneficial to have four firefighters on duty 24/7. For safety, firefighters must always work in pairs, and for every pair inside a burning structure there must be a pair waiting to switch out with them.
But this year's city budget wouldn't allow expanding the department that quickly. The request for just one full-time firefighter has drawn criticism from those who believe the department doesn't need another person on board to those who think that hiring just one firefighter would be a waste of money without others to round out a full crew.
"I don't want to see the volunteer program eliminated," McCabe said. "The community is at a point they do expect a better level of service than what we're providing."
An additional firefighter, McCabe said, would also help with day-to-day operations at the department, which would keep any firefighter busy, he said, from fire safety programs to inventory to training.
Another position that's come under fire is the addition of another police officer, which drew criticism from those saying the city was spending too much on fire and police protection, based partly on people's fears of the "what ifs."
But Police Chief Greg Dahlem said having an additional officer would allow the department to have two officers on duty 24 hours a day. Officers spend most of their time -- seven or eight hours of a 10-hour shift --in their vehicle patrolling Eudora, he said.
The other time, Dahlem said, was spent doing paperwork. He estimated a run-of-the mill call like a gas drive-off would take an officer about 30 minutes to fill out the report's "front sheet" and to type the narrative. A DWI arrest, he said, could take as long as three hours, from the time of the stop to completing the report. Running tests and taking the offender to the Douglas County Jail near Lawrence, as well as writing a detailed report, ate up a lot of an officer's time, he said.
"I think that's something they don't understand -- how long thing's take," Dahlem said.
Although attempts were made to eliminate the firefighter and police officer positions from the budget, the Council and Mayor Ron Conner, who split the tied vote, decided to leave the authority in the budget, which goes before the Council again Monday, when all five members are expected to be present. With Council member Rex Burkhardt absent, the Council decided to wait on voting on the budget until the whole Council was present.
If the budget passes with money reserved for a new firefighter and police officer, the positions won't be automatically added. The Council will still have the purview to approve or deny the requests.

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