Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
The Fire Board of Fire District #1 held their monthly public meeting at the New Century fire station on April 11 and discussed merger of districts, a new tender truck and fee schedules. The board also heard about March training exercises and collaborations with other communities.

Fire district merger
The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has been asked to consider the pros and cons of merging fire districts.
Rob Kirk, FD #1 fire chief, reported that Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) had done site visits to the district fire stations on March 15.
After the consultant site visits in the morning, stakeholders came in for a meeting.
“Mr. Johnson, Mayor Roberts, Mayor Morrow and Beth Linn attended, and it went very well. Good questions were asked and a lot of good comments were made. I think that they heard loud and clear our desires on whether to merge or not. Mayor Roberts, I thought, did a good job in expressing that,” said Kirk.
Kirk said ESCI might come back for a second visit, if needed, and a report was expected by the end of July.

Training exercises
FD #1 did a training exercise on March 17 at the intermodal, involving removal of a person from a construction site rooftop.
“They didn’t know we were coming. We showed up there, and they blew their horns and went through their safety drills and it went very well,” said Kirk.
He said it was good training for all and helped in building relationships.
The next day, FD #1 burned down a house at Four Corners and 191st and used that as training. FD #2 was also participating in that training, which turned into responses to actual fire calls.
“Right after we lit it off, we had a major grass fire, and as we were doing the grass fire, we had a house fire. Good thing we had FD #2 units over here, that worked out well,” said the fire chief. “It’s just another example of collaborating with everybody around us.”

Station use fees
Chief then discussed the ‘station officers’ option’. This is a fee schedule applied to the New Century station that FD #1 would pay.
Kirk said he had met with Mike Brown, Johnson County Commissioner 6th District, to express the district’s position. He said that Brown had asked county staff to look into the issue.
“He has expressed his desire for them to research and try to find alternate means to get us out of this fee schedule,” said Kirk. “It’s good to know he is working with us on this and that he is checking it out.”
Keith Johnson, fire board member, compared the fee to rent.
“If people are insistent that we are renting this in some fashion from them, then they are to maintain upkeep on it, which in the past that’s why we did it, because we thought we were going to own it at the end,” Johnson said.
Kirk and Johnson agreed that FD #1 had already spent at least $100,000 on the facility.
“If we do have to pay something – maybe a thousand dollars a month, something very minimal. I say, how about one dollar a month?” said Kirk.

Permit fees
FD #1 wants to enact its own fee schedule for site inspection permits and other services it provides to new construction projects.
This is to be presented and discussed at the Gardner city council meeting on April 17.
Dennis Meyers, assistant fire chief, attended the April 3 council meeting to ask for a spot on the agenda and has since met with Larry Powell, the city’s business and economic development director, to preview the district’s presentation and request.
Kirk said Powell agreed with the fee schedule and supports it.
If council approves, Kirk said the department could start charging fees immediately afterwards.

Replacing tender trucks
The district wants to replace its two water tenders. Water tenders are trucks that carry thousands of gallons of water, most often used when in rural areas where there is no nearby fire hydrant within quick reach.
The current tenders carry about 1,600 gallons each. They’ve both been in service for 24 years. Kirk said replacement was well past due.
The district wants to replace the two old units with one new model with a 3,000 gallon capacity.
Meyers said the two old units needed a long list of repairs but could be sold for $15,000 each without repairs.
The $30,000 would be applied to the new tender cost of $290,000. The cost of the new tender then would be $260,000, paid under a 10 year lease-purchase arrangement with roughly $30,000 a year in payments.
“We totally expect this truck to last 20 years plus, just like the other two did,” said Meyers.
The board will study the purchase and consider it at the next meeting.

Mutual aid expense
In March, FD #1 sent a truck and crews to assist with massive wildfires north of Hutchinson.
“Just about every fire department in Johnson County went down to Hutchinson. We all teamed up and went down there in groups. We were sending waves down there,” said Kirk.
Kent Harlow, fire board member, asked if expenses for that had been tracked and what category they fell under.
Kirk said he had tracked expenses, which included truck operation and man hours with overtime.
He said he would categorize the expense as mutual aid.
“Just like the Overland Park fire, something comes up like that, we just kind of eat that [expense],” he said.

IT system upgrades
Meyers updated the board on IT services. The building is now hooked up to fiber and enjoying much faster internet.
The department’s server is now physically located in the counties IT facility where IT staff can respond quickly to issues.
Keith Johnson, fire board member, asked if that meant the server was now shared with other departments.
Meyers said they still had a dedicated server.
As this item was being discussed, the fire station alarms went off calling for a response to an injury accident.
The on duty firemen in attendance exited, leaving the chief, assistant chief and Mary Bush, administrative services, to complete the meeting with the board.