Richmond Heights residents hear plan to consolidate 5 fire departments command staffs

RICHMOND HEIGHTS, MO – The public had a chance to weigh in on plans to consolidate the command staffs of 5 area fire departments Monday night.  The Richmond Heights City Council held a public forum at city hall.

Supporters of the plan believe it will allow the cities of Richmond Heights, Brentwood, Clayton, Maplewood and Rock Hill to operate more efficiently.  Opponents believe safety could be jeopardized if current command staff structures are changed.

The cities hired a consulting firm to research how consolidation could provide more efficient and more effective services.  The plan calls for one representative from each city to serve on a board that would hire one fire chief overseeing all 5 departments.  The current fire chiefs would become deputy chiefs.

“The Richmond Heights firefighters and the captains of these shifts will always remain Richmond Heights firefighters and captains,” said Richmond Heights Mayor Jim Thompson.  “This is not a consolidation of departments, just of the upper management.”

The plan needs to be approved by all 5 cities before it would be implemented.  Clayton Mayor Harold Sanger came to Monday’s hearing to speak in favor of consolidating the command staffs.

“Instead of people doing multiple tasks, we’re going to specialize people and those specialists will be more effective to get everybody up to speed,” Sanger told the Richmond Heights City Council.  He said the move would also eliminate the duplication of some administrative duties.

Richmond Heights firefighter Luke Van Cleave spoke in opposition to the move.  He expressed concerns that changing the current command structure could result in firefighters waiting longer for a commander to arrive before entering a burning structure.

“This might be a delay of only minutes but minutes feel like an eternity in a situation like that,” said Van Cleave.

The union representing area firefighters has also come out in opposition to the move.  Van Cleave expressed concerns over how many command positions would be replaced whenever current chiefs retire.

“You also spoke of one problem with a current command structure is our chiefs wear too many hats,” Van Cleave told council members.  “It seems as though you will take away some of those hats at first, then through attrition you will put those hats right back on other individuals.”

No decision was made Monday night.  The council will revisit the issue next month.  If the plan is approved, it would be for a time period of 3 years.  Mayor Thompson said the plan would result in some cost savings but emphasized his support was based on his belief the plan will help keep citizens and firefighters safe.