(Topeka, KS)-- “One of two units located at Topeka Fire Station Engine 3 will not be staffed for an indefinite period of time,” Announces City Manager Norton Bonaparte.
The press release from the city says, “ Engine 3, one of two units located at Fire Station 3 in downtown Topeka, will not be staffed for an indefinite period. This action is necessary to operate within the Topeka Fire Department’s budget after approximately $20,000 was used Friday to maintain minimum staffing for 17 companies when 28 firefighters, more than one third of the shift, used sick leave on that one 24-hour shift. On Saturday, 13 personnel used sick leave and approximately $6,300 was spent in overtime to maintain minimum staffing for 17 companies.
“It is administration’s obligation to live within the means authorized by our governing body,” said Norton Bonaparte, City Manager. “We have been successful at doing so until now. With 28 people using sick leave on one 24-hour shift, we are quickly exhausting our dollars to pay overtime, and therefore have little choice but to not staff the company indefinitely.”
It costs about $1,000 extra in overtime pay for each firefighter called in to cover a shift. Firefighters miss shifts for various reasons, including family medical leave, training, vacation, and sick leave usage. On average up to 5 personnel per day, or 6%, may be expected to use sick leave.
“It is too early in the year to tell how the budget will end up on December 31,” Bonaparte said. “We will continue to monitor staffing expenditures.” Staffing costs make up about 94 percent of the fire department’s budget. The fire department’s budget is almost 100 percent paid for by property tax revenues.
The engine has not been staffed periodically as city administration manages the department with less money for minimum staffing than last year as a result of 2008 budget cuts. The engine, which shares a station with a truck company, is located in an area with multiple overlaps in response times as documented in a consultants report.
Kent Dederick President of local 83 says,”The announcement late Saturday that Engine 3 would be closed indefinitely is something that concerns all within the suppression ranks of this Department. But I believe there is a larger question that needs to be asked and that is why there has been such a spike in the use of sick leave in that period of time? I have been contacted by Howard Giles requesting my opinion as to why this spike in sick leave has occurred as well as informing me of my contractual obligations and that I must work with management to achieve this. I have continually reminded our personnel of the contractual obligation and we will continue to work on this issue.”