Thursday, August 15, 2013

No Confidence in Chubbuck Fire Chief Eric King

I am a little off the front lot right now.  I can't believe what I am hearing this year from Chief King. It is ironic that the same conditions have existed since I was on the Council and I am angry.

Five-Six years ago Chief King came to the Council and said that the Fire Department was not staffed adequately to safely deal with fires.  It is on the record and I even have a copy of the original letter that the Chief gave the Council at that time outlining the shortfalls on safety.

Two things you have to know, for firefighters to enter a burning structure, there have to be two men on the outside, in case trouble occurs.  It's called 2 in 2 out and it is a standard for safety.  They can go in if they KNOW someone is trapped without the standard staffing, but it is dangerous for them and the person that's trapped.

Air apparatus have an expiration date on them and ours are at least 20 years old.  The Council 5 years ago set up to have those tanks replaced 1/5 of them every year.   It appears that has never been done. Now there is a new standard for air apparatus so our can no longer be maintained.  The parts are no longer available (Thank God) so they can't keep reworking equipment that should be replaced.  They simply are obsolete.  It appears that somehow, even though the $60,000 was cut from the budget that the Department is going to get them anyway.  What that means is something that was in the budget will have to be cut by $60,000 so that the Department can do a lease to own deal for approximately 25 air apparatus they need.  The fact that the Chief didn't fight harder for that $60,000 in a $16,000,000 Budget seems ridiculous. Again, it's a safety issue.

Now Chief King will tell you that it's a "good"  thing that the apparatus were not replaced because of the change in standard, however, I come back to his firefighters that go into harms way with this equipment knowing that it's old and could fail.  Yes, all the equipment is working right now; however, when the engine warning light comes on in your car do you ignore it?  The car's working isn't it?  Chief King will tell you I am just overreacting but even if they do get the lease, there is no plan to have an organized upgrade and trade fund for them.  We'll just have the same issue down the road.  Oh, by the way, the estimated cost to get the new apparatus is $300,000.00.  It will be a 5 year lease at $60,000 per year.

This year, the Chief during his statements said that the Fire Department is still not adequately staffed.  He stated that the average fire requires 14 firefighters, we have 7.  The Department fills the rest with "pay per call" personnel.  We staff each engine with 3 firefighters instead of the standard 4.  First engine usually arrives in less than 4 minutes; however, if a second engine is required, it can take as much as 15 minutes to get it out to the site, sometimes more.  We have 3 certified drivers and one is assigned for each shift.

I have no confidence because the Chief is doing nothing to make sure his people are taken care of.  He has spent money in what I can only describe as stupid ways.  Sending 2 drivers to bring back a Pumper Engine that could have been delivered was at best irresponsible and at worse was incompetent.  Not only did we spend thousands of dollars more than we needed to, we had 2 drivers out of the area for a department that doesn't have enough certified drivers ever.  Sending two drivers out to Florida was ridiculous.  It left the department and our citizens at risk.  In addition, because the cost of bringing back the truck was so high, the overtime budget was exceeded.  Due to this issue, when a Fire call comes in, off duty full time firefighters are told not to come in unless called.  This means that they could be waiting a significant amount of time before they man the second engine when needed.   The Chief said he didn't realize the pay rate for this jaunt to Florida even though it's a contract with his department.  If I had used that excuse at any of my jobs, I would have been demoted at best, and probably fired.  It is part of his JOB to know how his staff is paid.

Now, I know that Chief King will say that I just don't understand, that I am just "causing trouble."  Well then, he needs to stop lying to the Council and the Citizens on what his staffing levels are.  Either the department is adequately staffed or not.  He cannot have it both ways.  He cannot keep calling wolf if he is adequately staffed.  He needs to be clear to the Council and the Citizens what equipment needs to be replaced as soon as possible because he is putting everyone at risk by denying that there is an issue.

I believe that our firefighters are at risk.  We have had calls where they have had to wait to roll because of no driver.  I believe it is better now than it was, but the Chief continues to sell his staff down the river, and someday it's going to bite him.

As for the City of Chubbuck, decide whether you want to have a Fire Department of not.  If you want your own Department, you have to do what you can to keep them as safe as possible.  It's a moral obligation.  If you feel you can't do this, combine with Pocatello, which seems to understand that their firefighters are valuable and put your focus elsewhere.