Smithville Fire Chief Charlie Parker has renewed his request for the city to fund another full time paid firefighter position for the department and he is asking for a pay raise for himself.
Parker met with the Smithville Mayor and Aldermen during a budget work session Thursday night at city hall.
Except for Chief Parker, the Smithville Fire Department is made up of 25 volunteers.
Chief Parker was put on the city payroll six years ago at $35,350 per year plus benefits. Since then the city has raised his pay to more than $46,000 per year plus benefits.
While Chief Parker did not specifically mention Thursday night what his salary should be, at least one alderman, Shawn Jacobs believes the salary of the fire chief should be commensurate with what the police chief earns, $62,336 (base pay) plus benefits.
In his request for more help, Chief Parker said the department is finding it more challenging to recruit new volunteers.
“I have guys who have been with the department for 25 to 35 years but they are starting to slow up a little bit. These are the guys who do 75% of the calls. As they start bowing out of the picture, I don’t have a robust big bunch of young people to take over. When that happens we will really be in bad shape. Right now about three guys is all we can count on during the day time depending on who is off work that particular day. I have two others who do general handyman things. They may be in town today but have to be somewhere else tomorrow. We don’t have new people stepping up to do that,” he said.
Chief Parker said another full time firefighter could help take up the slack when the department is short handed especially during a daytime call.
“As it is right now with one person, I can’t really safely go out and respond to a lot of calls alone. I can go out in a supervisory position but it’s hard to take out the fire truck, activate the pump, squirt water and keep the traffic away. I really need at least two people to help with that. With another full time firefighter, we would be better staffed to do a lot of the day time responses including wreck calls that we go to in assisting the police department with traffic, fire hazards, and fluid leaks,” said Chief Parker.
Another full timer could also share in upkeep and maintenance of the fire hall and equipment along with other tasks. Currently, the city is planning to contract with a company to do GPS mapping, maintenance, and flow testing of the city’s nearly 300 fire hydrants.
“Once we get the fire hydrants painted, flow tested, and numbered I would be glad to take that on as an annual thing if we could get some help. We also have 9,000 square feet of buildings to keep up and over $3 million worth of equipment between the fire trucks, air packs, and the rest. We could use help with that,” he continued.
Chief Parker said his long range goal is to have at least six full time fighters. Recognizing that the city may never be able to afford a fully staffed department, Chief Parker said six full timers with part timers to cover vacations and sick days would be sufficient. That would put two firefighters on duty 24 hours a day and the shifts could be 24 hours on and 48 hours off. “They could take care of 75% of the calls including responses to alarms, small wrecks, and small fires. Volunteers could be called in for the bigger things,” he said.
In making a request for a pay raise, Chief Parker pointed to the demands of his job.
“Last year we had 215 fire calls and I came back 110 times after my 8 to 5 hours to respond to fire calls which ranged from 7 o’clock in the evening to 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. My other duties include maintaining training records and certifications for all volunteers, clerical work, gathering fire and dispatch reports and entering them into a computer system for state and national reporting. I also apply for grants; do inspections for several businesses, churches, schools and public buildings; conduct classes in CPR training, usage of fire extinguishers, first aid, and general fire safety for various groups; Install smoke detectors for the public; participate in Career Days at the schools and other community service projects and events; perform general maintenance of the fire hall and equipment; and participate in regular training classes and meetings with fellow firefighters".
Chief Parker wants the city to budget funds for re-painting the stairway between city hall and fire hall and for signage at the fire hall. He said lettering could be mounted on the building for $4,500 or less if the signage is just on one side. Parker also wants a sign erected on the grounds of the fire hall.
The chief is further asking that the city increase insurance coverage for firefighters. “I would like to take out a different firemen insurance policy than we have right now. It needs to be updated. I have a price from an insurance company that covers fire departments and the price they quoted would be about $2,100. The policy we have right now is for $1,000. This will better take care of the firefighters in addition to worker’s compensation in case they were to get hurt and had to be out of work. The benefits are better,” said Chief Parker. If approved the city would take bids later this year.
The Smithville Mayor and Aldermen are still working toward preparation of the city budget for 2018-19 and will act on 1st reading passage of it Thursday night, June 21 at 6 p.m. at city hall.