The following is an email sent to 40 South News editor Doug Miner, unsolicited, received March 24, from Kurt Becker, 4th District Vice President, IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) Local 2665.
On behalf of IAFF Local 2665 and the Professional Firefighters of Maplewood, can you please kindly publish the attached in response to the comments from Mayor Greenberg that you published yesterday?
4th District Vice President
IAFF Local 2665
Firefighters Set the Record Straight
March 24, 2021
By: Kurt Becker, District Vice-President – IAFF Local 2665
I was surprised and disappointed to read the missives Mr. Greenberg published in the South 40 News on March 23, 2021. His article, and his subsequent comments are full of misinformation, half-truths, and in some cases are outright duplicitous. Before I address that, however, let’s point out the accuracies in the Mayor’s diatribes:
First, it is absolutely true that the Maplewood Firefighters Association and IAFF Local 2665 have enthusiastically endorsed his opponent, Ms. Nikylan Knapper. We believe strongly that Nikylan is the most qualified candidate in this race, and we are very proud to stand beside a candidate with her integrity, intellect, and passion for her community as she becomes the first African American woman to become the Mayor of Maplewood.
Second, it is also true that for the last two years the region’s fire service leaders have been working extremely diligently to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of our current system for delivering fire and emergency medical services to our residents and businesses. We owe it to our community to honestly assess whether or not we are doing our job as well as we can be, and to offer alternatives for the consideration of policy makers when it is clear we could do better.
That effort, the Central Metro Fire and Rescue (CMFR) municipal fire department consolidation project, is at the heart of Mr. Greenberg’s misrepresentations so with this response I will try to set the record straight.
To understand the CMFR project it is important to understand the region, and not just be limited to a myopic and provincial view of governance in St. Louis County. The stark reality is that there is not an economist on the planet that would look at the 56 square miles and 190,000 residents that comprise the CMFR service area and conclude that the safest, most responsive, and most efficient way to deliver fire and emergency medical services to the community is to have those services provided by 15 different, independent fire departments, each with their own administration and budget, and to have them dispatched by four different 911 call centers.
Our current deployment model makes little sense when viewed objectively and is a byproduct of the historic balkanization that defines St. Louis County. That notwithstanding, despite the impediments to success baked into this system, our region’s firefighters have done an incredible job ensuring that when someone calls 911, their crisis is addressed, and that consumer perception can make it difficult for some to see why it is necessary to contemplate an alternative model.
The reality is, however, that not one of the fifteen fire departments involved in this study is accredited, or even close to becoming so. Of the 21 fire trucks in the region, only 7 have enough firefighters on them on a daily basis to meet the industry minimum safety standards and performance objectives. Having multiple dispatch centers leads to critical delays – sometimes several minutes – in getting the right resources to an emergency. And, while a cardiac arrest or similar medical emergency in some communities will receive a cadre of 6 firefighter/paramedics almost immediately, there are others where the same critical incident may only have one paramedic on the scene to treat the patient.
The CMFR consolidation project seeks to provide policy makers an alternative to the status quo. One that ensures that all our fire trucks have the right number of firefighters, one that ensures that emergencies receive a standard response regardless of your zip code, and one that results in a fire department capable of achieving accreditation.
On April 14, 2021 we will be making a presentation to the region’s elected officials and city managers. That presentation will be the culmination of Phase 1 of this project which took a very detailed, exhaustive, granular, and data-driven approach and focused on determining the feasibility of creating a more effective and efficient service delivery model.
Our hope is that the data we will share with the city managers, and elected officials will be compelling enough to move this project into Phase 2 which will involve a more meta-level analysis that engages a diverse group of stakeholders to do a critical review of the data gathered in Phase 1 and to engage in discussions of various governance models.
Should Phase 2 of this endeavor result in a contingency of cities desiring to move forward, Phase 3 is when we would envision interested cities making a preliminary commitment and for the discussions at that phase to return to the granular-level and focus on the myriad topics associated with implementation.
In conclusion, to address the most egregious mistruths in Mr. Greenberg’s article and subsequent comments:
First, under no circumstances would an endeavor like this ever remove, or even relocate the fire department presence from the City of Maplewood. Maplewood’s fire trucks and firefighters will continue to operate out of the fire station on Manchester Road as they have for decades. To suggest otherwise is not only totally inaccurate, it’s also completely irresponsible.
Second, is it possible that the region’s policy makers will determine that the best way to move forward is by establishing one large fire protection district? Yes, it is conceivable. It is also very unlikely. And based on the research we have done thus far I, along with my fire service colleagues, would be hesitant to recommend that approach for a myriad reason.
Finally, was there some kind of nefarious quid pro quo between the Maplewood’s firefighters and Nikylan Knapper that led to their endorsement of her candidacy as suggested by Mayor Greenburg? Absolutely not. In fact, that could not be further from the truth. Aside from tacitly making her aware that this project is ongoing, Maplewood’s firefighters and IAFF Local 2665 have not even discussed the details of this consolidation study, let alone asked Ms. Knapper to endorse it.
I hope this explanation sets the record straight and offers insights for readers on this topic. If anyone has further questions, I can be reached at: Kurt.Becker@iaff2665.org