By Tim Hrenchir, Topeka Capital Journal (KS)
Topeka City Councilman Richard Harmon questions whether Topeka firefighters should be driving their big red firetrucks to the grocery store.
Council members Chad Manspeaker and Sylvia Ortiz don’t have a problem with it.
The council talked at its Tuesday evening meeting about the use of firetrucks for purposes not related to fire response.
The matter came up as the council considered and then approved the purchase for $609,500 of a new rescue truck for the department.
Harmon, who maintains a law office at 2201 S.W. 29th, told fellow council members that at least once a week he sees one of the Topeka firetrucks parked in the lot at Dillons, 2815 S.W. 29th.
Harmon asked, “Is there any way we can keep this in the station and use a less expensive vehicle to go to and from the store?”
Fire Chief Greg Bailey responded that the fire department encourages its firefighters, who work 24-hour shifts, to plan out their day in advance.
“If they have to go to the store, we ask them to try to coordinate that with returning from an alarm response,” he said.
Bailey said the fire department was concerned about any public perceptions that it wasn’t using its resources efficiently.
“I’m fully aware and accept the responsibility of making sure our firefighters aren’t misusing resources,” he said. “I appreciate your concern, and we’re all over that.”
Bailey said that when firefighters returning from calls make stops at grocery stores, Dairy Queens or G’s Frozen Custard & Yogurt, the department encourages them to “get out and know your neighbors” and “be a part of the community.”
Councilman Chad Manspeaker recalled how, when he went on a ride- along with some Topeka firefighters, they had stopped at G’s on the way back to the station from a call.
Manspeaker said he and the firefighters “talked to probably 10 or 15 people.”
He said he saw that as being a positive thing because when the public interacts with firefighters, they see them as being “people.”
Manspeaker added that firefighters need quick access to their trucks if they are out in public because if they get a call, “I want them to be able to get in that firetruck and get to that fire.”
Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz also spoke in support of letting firefighters take their trucks to the store to ensure they have quick access.
She said the city needs to better educate the public about “exactly what the fire department does.”
Tuesday’s discussion included a question from Councilwoman Elaine Schwartz about whether the fire department could use smaller vehicles instead of the big trucks to go on first responder emergency medical calls. Most of the department’s calls are first responders.
Bailey said the department was looking into whether using smaller vehicles for first responders was a viable option.
“It’s not as simple as it may sound to actually do that,” he said.
Bailey said he didn’t know what the final outcome of that inquiry would be.
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