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Jefferson City Fire Department looks to fund critical needs

The Jefferson City Fire Department is requesting funds to solve “three critical areas of the department.”

At the Public Safety Committee meeting Thursday, interim Fire Chief Jason Turner distributed a copy of an email between himself and interim City Administrator Drew Hilpert discussing needs of the department. Turner said the most critical need is the replacement of the bay doors at Fire Station No. 2, where Turner said the department has had at least two incidents in the last two months where the doors, which are about 15 to 20 years old, wouldn’t open.

“I’m concerned that it’s going to delay our response time,” Turner said. “A door that doesn’t open properly is a serious response issue.”

Another critical issue, Turner said, is the long-term needs concerning plumbing and fixtures at Fire Station No. 2. In an email Turner wrote to Hilpert on Dec. 23, Turner described “very serious plumbing issues in the kitchen and restrooms,” noting the issues pose a potential health risk for staff.

The last, and rated least important of the three requests, is looking at replacing workout equipment in the stations that was received about 10 years ago through a grant. Turner said the equipment simply is worn out and though there is a high maintenance cost, he said having easy access to workout equipment for firefighters is a positive outcome.

“It’s been a great program,” Turner said.

When asked why the council was unaware of these needs during the last budget process, Turner said the department was asked not to bring up the issues because of the tight budget and simply try to “put Band-Aids on” the problems. Turner specified the issues with the bay doors at Fire Station No. 2 only began in the past couple of months.

“I was asked not to pursue these types of requests due to budgeting concerns,” Turner wrote in the email.

Fifth Ward Councilman Larry Henry said regardless of the financial situation of the city, he wants to know about these issues before they get to a critical point.

“I don’t like the fact they’re told not to say anything,” Henry said.

Turner noted the department’s budget for maintaining its seven buildings has been cut in half throughout the last four years, down to $40,000.

“If our buildings and grounds budget would have remained at its funding over the past couple of years, these issues could have been identified and (corrected),” Turner wrote in the email.

Committee members agreed the critical needs, especially the bay doors, need to be addressed, but requested more firm estimates on the cost before moving forward. The committee directed staff to purchase what is needed out of the maintenance budget and funds could be shuffled later on in the fiscal year.

“I’m sure there’s money somewhere,” Hilpert said.

Also discussed Thursday was a proposed bill that would change the dates for open burning in Jefferson City. Open burning currently runs from Nov. 15 to March 15, but Turner said the department could save money and calls by adjusting those dates to begin Nov. 1 and end March 1.

Turner said people tend to start burning around Oct. 31, when the weather is still nice. Turner said the first two weeks in March also tend to be wet and not suitable for burning.

“It would reduce our calls,” Turner said. “(It) would be a big help for the citizens.”

Turner said the department receives at least 20 or 30 calls about burning during the first two weeks in November, which he hopes would be alleviated by starting the burning period Nov. 1.

The committee unanimously approved the proposed bill, which will go to the full City Council for review.

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