Archive for Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fire response agreement paves way for merger of local departments

March 29, 2007

In what is being billed as a precursor to bigger things to come, the De Soto Fire Department and Johnson County Fire District No. 3 have reached an agreement detailing how the departments will respond to fires in and around De Soto.

De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson said the agreement moved the departments further away from an attitude of competition to one of cooperation.

With the agreement, the two departments will change how they respond to fires. In the past, both departments would answer calls from a buffer zone in De Soto between the downtown De Soto station and the fire district's station on Kill Creek Road.

Fire board member Kent Dvorak said it is a formal agreement both parties have agreed to but which hadn't been signed. He and Anderson agreed it was a step to a larger agreement that will merge the two departments.

The fire board advanced a proposal for consolidation last year, which the De Soto City Council approved as a framework for a merger. Based on an agreement that led to the merger of fire districts and the city of Leavenworth, the agreement would establish a locally appointed board to oversee the newly merged department.

Dvorak said nothing had developed to derail that framework and expected it to be in place for the start of 2009.

"We haven't seen any (reservations) on our board," he said. "The city of De Soto has been very forthright, and we have been the same. I think we are all working toward the same goal."

De Soto Fire Chief Kevin Ritter said under the new response arrangement the closest department will make the first run on a call. A computer will determine what station the call goes to by factoring in such things as distance, speed imits and roads not in service, he said.

Both departments could still end up at the scene if it is determined help is needed, Ritter said.

The agreement would improve the efficiency of both departments, Ritter said.

Last year, a published story pegged the De Soto Fire Department and Johnson County Fire District No. 3 as the two departments in the county with the slowest response times.

A number of changes since that story, which relied on dated material, have improved the response times, Ritter and Dvorak said. The most significant of those changes has been the expansion of manpower, they said.

The De Soto Fire Department now has about 50 volunteers at the department and paid employees, Ritter said. The department now has one full-time employee and 17 part-time employees, he said.

With that, the De Soto Fire Department has 24-hour presence in the downtown station, Ritter said.

"Many times, our station is manned with two to three personnel per day," he said. "With our department, we send the unit that is dispatched as quickly as possible. We do allow our officers to respond to the scene in their own vehicles. Only our fire officers are allowed to do that. Others are required to report to the station and take some sort of apparatus."

The fire district has also improved its manpower readiness, Dvorak said.

"When you look at when I came on the board, we only had one paid person on during the day," he said. "We now have three. All those things work to improve response times."

The fire district currently mans only its northern station on Kill Creek Road, Dvorak said. In another move to reduce response times, the plan is to soon start putting at least on full-time staff member in its southern station at 127th Street and Gardner Road during daytime hours, he said.

The merger would allow for more efficient use of combined manpower in the three stations and the entire coverage area, Dvorak said. But he said local departments had to deal with distances that would make it unlikely they could ever record the response times of more urban departments.

One equipment upgrade has also improved response times, Ritter said. Johnson County received a grant that allowed both local fire departments to install mobile DATA units on their trucks. The units aid in communications to the trucks and directions to fires, he said.

Finally, his department has addressed procedures and bookkeeping entry methods that penalized the department's response times in the past, Ritter said.

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