Topeka Fire Department to Provide Advanced Life Support

The contract arranges for firefighters who provide paramedic services to receive additional pay in the amounts of $2,500 for 2020 and $3,000 for 2021, and offers a one-time bonus of $1,000 to current firefighters who become certified to perform paramedic services.

by Tim Hrenchir, The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan. / May 15, 2019

(TNS) — The Topeka Fire Department shared information Tuesday with the Topeka City Council about its plans to transition beginning next year from providing basic life support to providing advanced life support as firefighters respond to emergency medical calls.

The department can start that transformation without going outside its existing budget, said Richard Sigle, its emergency medical services chief.

Mayor Michelle De La Isla was absent from Tuesday's evening meeting, where the council also voted 9-0 to approve a three-year contract with the city's rank-and-file firefighters providing pay raises of 2 percent effective at the beginning of 2019, 2 percent at the start of 2020 and 3 percent at the start of 2021.

The contract arranges for firefighters who provide paramedic services to receive additional pay in the amounts of $2,500 for 2020 and $3,000 for 2021, and offers a one-time bonus of $1,000 to current firefighters who become certified to perform paramedic services.

Those moves will help enable the department to take a "next step of history" by providing advanced life support, Sigle said.

He noted that about 80 percent of the calls the fire department makes involve providing emergency medical services.

The department currently provides basic life support. That requires firefighters to complete emergency medical technician training, which generally involves 12 credit hours of education, Sigle said. All current Topeka firefighters are EMTs, he said.

Providing advanced life support requires completing paramedic training, which involves 68 credit hours of education, Sigle said.

"We have 12 paramedics on the department right now," he said.

He said the department plans beginning next year to have a paramedic present for all shifts at two of its 18 companies. Topeka Fire Department companies generally consist of four firefighters for each of three shifts.

Initial equipment costs to provide advanced life support are about $38,000 per company, Sigle said. The department has the $76,000 it needs to cover those costs for the two companies involved, he said.

The department would like to eventually offer advanced life support citywide, but realizes it must act within budget constraints imposed by the council, he said.

Councilwoman Karen Hiller cautioned against rushing into offering advanced life support without first having an idea of what the department hopes to ultimately achieve.

Councilwoman and Deputy Mayor Sandra Clear said Sigle was clearly enthusiastic about the planned change, and asked if other firefighters felt the same way.

Sigle acknowledged not everyone at the department shares his enthusiasm about advanced life support. He attributed that to its being "new" and "different" here.

Sigle said that as the department moves to implement advanced life support, it is putting more of a focus on hiring firefighters who are already paramedics.

Base pay for beginning firefighters will rise by 9.8 percent — to $15 an hour from $13.66 an hour — under the labor contract the council approved Tuesday evening covering the years 2019 through 2021 with Topeka firefighters represented in collective bargaining by Local No. 83 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

City human resources director Jacque Russell said the contract includes phasing in some certification requirements for promotions, including mandating a driving test for firefighters being promoted to the position of "apparatus operator," which involves driving a firetruck.

The council also discussed but took no action Tuesday regarding a proposal it is expected to consider next week, which would mandate that approval from the mayor and council be required only to dispose of claims filed against the city only if the amount involved is $50,000 or more.

Councilman Brendan Jensen said that amount is "considerably more" than what's spelled out in the city's current rules, which require governing body approval if the amount is at least $10,000.

Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz voiced concern that the proposal set to be considered next week would also do away with the city's current rules allowing for claims denied by the city attorney's office to be appealed to the mayor and council.

In a meeting that lasted about three hours and 40 minutes, council members on Tuesday also:

• Met behind closed doors in executive session for 15 minutes to discuss the acquisition of property necessary for utility infrastructure work and for 15 minutes to discuss attorney/client-privileged matters.

• Heard quarterly reports from the utilities, public works and planning and development departments.

• Hear an update from city manager Brent Trout regarding goals and priorities of the mayor and council.

• Heard Councilman Jeff Coen encourage them to seek out a new Facebook group called "Topeka Positive Reviews."

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©2019 The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan.

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