Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fire department low on space, volunteers

November 21, 2007

Population growth in the city of Eudora led to construction of the new recreation center and the passage of the $45 million school bond. It should come as no surprise then that the same surge in population has affected the call volumes taken in by the Eudora Fire Department.

At this time in 2006, the Eudora Fire Department had received 91 fire calls. By contrast, the department has received 150 calls to date this year, which is a spike of nearly 70 percent.

Unfortunately, the Eudora Fire Department has been unable to grow along with the rest of city.

The fire department is made of one full-time employee, Chief Randy Ates, and 25 paid-per-call volunteers.

"All we have for a fire station is basically a mechanic's garage with three spaces and two little closets that we call offices," Ates said. "We don't even have a shower."

Ates also said the fire department doesn't have enough personnel to meet national standards.

"The standards that we're held to are National Fire Protection Association Standards," he said. "If we follow all their rules and regulations on the first alarm for a working fire, we should have 27 people on that scene. We don't even have that many on our fire department."

Volunteers are paid $15 per call and $10 per meeting or training session. Ates' main struggle with getting people to volunteer is simply informing the public that it is needed.

"There is no lack of people willing to volunteer, but our difficulty is getting the word out," he said. "We run into people almost weekly that don't realize that we're not a paid fire department."

Mayor Tom Pyle said that he knows the time is coming when something will have to be done about the problems posed by personnel issues.

"We're working toward getting a full, paid fire department, but that's down the road a ways," he said. "Our next step will be to get two full-time positions, and that way we can split the shifts."

Furthermore, as Eudora has spread out, the fire station at 840 Main Street no longer is in a central location. This has had a small, yet perceivable effect on call times

"It's easy to get that first truck out because the people that live close can get here, but as the town has grown, it takes people longer and longer to get into the station," Ates said. "We've looked at trying to expand and there's no room, so that means you've got land to purchase, plus the cost for building."

Ates estimates the cost of a new station to be about $2 million. And while he knows that city officials are aware of the problems, he can't conceive of where the money would come from.

"There's been no problem with the city council or the city administrator saying that they don't think there's a need; it's just where are we going to get the money," he said. "There's so much money being spent as a result of this growth, but we're part of it, too."

City Administrator Cheryl Beatty said the existing issues in the fire department were on the radar of the city council.

Beatty also said that the those needs would be discussed at the 20-30 Vision Group meeting that will be from 6:30 to 8:45 p.m. Nov. 28 at Eudora City Hall, 4 E. 7th Street. The meeting is open to the public and will be a community-wide planning session that will look plan for Eudora's next 20 to 30 years.

"We're aware that one of the needs of the community is a bigger fire station," she said "That will likely be one of the things that we talk about. It's all based on what the community decides that they want, not what five department heads and the mayor want."

Beatty said that the road to building a new fire station will be a long process of drafting reports and examining what makes sense and where there are flexibilities in taxes that would allow for spending. She set a timetable for a formal proposal for a new fire department at about one year away.

Ates thinks the natural progression for the town would be to make a way for the emergency services to grow proportionately along with the city.

"Look at the growth that has required that we have new schools, look at the influx of people that have moved here and want better services from their city and wanted the new parks and rec (center)," he said. "Likewise, I believe that most of the people in the town would support the idea of expanding the fire and police department. If we want to build for the future of Eudora, we need to build now."

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