Letter to the Editor

Former fire chief speaks out on safety concerns, PBFD needs

Friday, May 14, 2021

To the Editor:

Being now retired, but having been with the PBFD for 34 years, the last 14 of those years in the position of fire chief, gives me a unique insight to offer regarding this issue (Residency requirements for fire department personnel).

Chief Stucker is correct in his comments regarding the impact for the FD and to the public they serve and protect, if passed. It is well known in the fire service that the first 6 minutes from the time a fire STARTS will determine the outcome and how well you can deal with that situation most of the time. From the time the fire STARTS, the clock is ticking and any delay is counter productive, not only in saving a structure, but more importantly, lives as well.

Having a drive of up to 45 miles just to get to an emergency is contrary to the entire concept of why you have a full-time, paid fire department in the first place. The idea is to have a crew on hand, ready to respond to a call, in the shortest time possible. The 45-mile limit negates that option of a fast response time with proper personnel, when a call back of off duty personnel is needed.

And why are call back personnel needed? Chief Stucker is again correct when stating that there are usually six (firefighters) that can respond on one shift. Thatís from all three firehouses total. That is to cover every building and every life in the city. And suppose, as often happens, they are already at one end of town on a call when another call requires them to be in the opposite end of town. Someoneís emergency is going to wait. It could be yours.

The facts are that the FD now has five fewer people in 2021 than they did when I hired in 1974. They have the same number of fire houses as in 1974 - three. Yet, in that time, the city has increased in population, increased in area to be protected ó by annexation ó and has a heavier density of buildings due to new home and business construction. The FD has needed a fourth firehouse and nine more firefighters for many years.

For the city to say Municipal Utilities would not be allowed to have the 45-mile limit residency because they may need to respond to a power outage, and then include another emergency service (FD) in the 45 mile limit, is ridiculous. How can you rationalize itís more important for one, but not for another emergency department? I think the person whose house just burned is probably not too concerned about when the electric will be back on. And God forbid there is a loss of life due to increased response time.

Prior to 9/11, I presented a proposal to the city manager to allow the people to vote on a 1/2-cent sales tax that would be used entirely for the FD. I was turned down and was told the time was not right. After 9/11, I again presented my proposal to the city manager and was told the same thing. I remarked if the time was not right now, it never will be. Shortly after that, a proposal for a tax to four-lane 67 highway WAS on the ballot.

My point is that if the people had been given the opportunity to vote on the 1/2-cent sales tax for the FD back then, we would not be having this conversation, or problem, now.

But there is another solution and not to mention it is ignoring the elephant in the room. Extending the mileage limit to get more applicants is like putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm. In this case, the broken arm is the cityís need to offer better pay and BENEFITS, and then the applicant pool will return to itís previous levels.

These comments are based on my own personal experiences and first-hand knowledge, and are meant to present the public with information they may not have known previously, and to allow the city leaders a chance to consider alternatives to the 45-mile residency proposal.

This is not meant as a criticism of any individual, but more of a way to try and help the fire department and the people that they protect. The 45-mile residency proposal will not do this for either.

Randy Hastings

Retired PBFD chief

Poplar Bluff