Archive for Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Volunteer firefighters to change schedules

12-hour shifts planned for most weekends

September 24, 2003

David Bennett is tired of being responsible for a budget over which he has little control.

So on Monday, he asked for and received permission to make some changes in the way the Tonganoxie City Fire Department reimburses its volunteers.

Bennett told Tonganoxie City Council members that the department has paid volunteers $5 for each call they respond to and $5 for each meeting they attend. The department has two paid employees, and the remainder of the city's firefighters are volunteers.

"I'm not asking for any additional money," Bennett told the council. "I'm asking to restructure what we already have in place."

What he and the active volunteers wanted was to allow part-timers to work 12-hour shifts -- probably from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends -- and be paid $10 an hour. Two part-timers would work each 12-hour shift.

Under the $5 per call plan, Bennett said, he had little control over how many firefighters would respond to each call. And he said, obviously, that he had no control on the number of calls the department received.

"Last year, we finished with 318 total calls," he said in a letter to the council. "As of today, we are 13 calls away from this total. If we keep up our call volume, we will be well over 400 calls at end of December."

The council approved the plan, 4-0, with council member Kathy Graveman absent.

Another benefit of staffing the fire station, at least on a part-time basis, seven days a week is that it should help the department's insurance rating, Bennett said. And firefighters would be available on the weekends to issue burn permits and perform other public service duties.

Bennett said firefighters would train, perform maintenance on firefighting equipment, trucks and the fire station, as well as handle other tasks, during their shifts.

"This would give control back to where it needs to be," he said.

He assured the council that the shifts would be rotated among the firefighters.

"They're willing to do this," he said. ''... I brought it up, and they could have said no."

And he said firefighters still are committed to responding to all calls.

Bennett wants to revisit the change in a year.

"I know the current system is not working," he said. "I can't be responsible for a budget, when I don't know how many calls we're going to have."

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