Junction City Fire Department working to grow its EMT corps

Published 10:34 pm Friday, October 21, 2016

Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series of stories looking at how local fire departments balance the needs of their communities with limited budgets.

In 2015, there were 1,345,500 fires in the United States, according to the National Fire Prevention Association.

Nationwide, a fire department responded to a fire every 23 seconds. One structure fire was reported every 63 seconds, one home structure fire was reported every 86 seconds, one civilian fire injury was reported every 34 minutes, and one civilian fire death occurred every 2 hours and 40 minutes.

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Overall, in 2015, 3,280 civilians died from fires, 15,700 civilians were injured in fires and there was $14.3 billion in property damage.

From 2006-2010, Kentucky ranks seventh highest in average fire death rates, at 17.4, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

In Junction City, there are an estimated 3,000 people who provided their fire department with budget of $35,550 for this fiscal year. The department also received $7,750 in state aid funding.

“We have a lucrative budget for this department,” Fire Chief Cory Kitchen said. “But you have to weigh out the wants and needs and build a path to what you need first.”

The department’s biggest portion of the budget is salaries at $13,000. Firefighters get paid $10 per run and for training.

There are currently 15 members on the roster. Kitchen said thankfully, some work second shifts.

“If it wasn’t for some of my guys who work second shift, we would be in a world of hurt,” he said. That’s because the second-shift members can respond during the day while others are at work.

The second biggest expense is equipment at $10,000. That covers maintenance on the department’s fire engine and utility truck, as well as any other equipment they have.

Kitchen said he has noticed a decrease in fire calls. That’s consistent with a national trend of fewer fires but more new duties for firefighters.

Kitchen said the number of medical calls his department handles continues to increase. It’s something he wants to start focusing on with the department. There are currently three EMTs with the department, but the firefighters as a general rule don’t go on runs with EMS like Perryville and Danville firefighters do. They are sometimes toned out to assist, Kitchen said.

All the firefighters receive training in basic medical skills, such as CPR.

“I want to encourage more guys to become involved in the emergency medical technician program,” Kitchen said. But doing that isn’t free, so he’s trying to come up with creative ways to help send those who are interested to classes, which can cost anywhere from $500 to $800.

One of the big tasks Kitchen has faced since taking over about two years ago has been replacing old turnout gear.

“That has been a big expense,” he said. “The last two years, we’ve been able to get all of our old stuff out. We’ve taken our program to where we do a little bit at a time instead of all at once.”

While new gear has a “shelf life” of 10 years, there are dangers out there that the gear can’t always protect against. That’s a fear for Kitchen.

“The changing of hazards that we have to deal with out there and the costs of preparing for that is what really concerns me. We’re turning more and more into a rescue, hazardous material type of agency now,” Kitchen said. “The department has (multiple) scopes, not just one. Between the new technology and the dangers we’re facing now, it’s like, ‘Where do we start?’”

While big needs are met, there are some smaller things that aren’t always thought of, things like safety bail-out rope, which Kitchen said is on his list of items the department needs to work on getting for every member. Something that minor can mean the difference in life or death, aiding in getting a firefighter out of a burning structure if something has gone wrong.

Above all, Kitchen said his goal is to recruit people who understand the importance of what they are trying to do.

“My concern for this community is to provide a high quality of care. We want to keep the standard of care high. The community deserves it.”

Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.

The next story in this series will appear in Sunday’s Advocate-Messenger and be focused on the Danville and Boyle County fire departments.