City has a process for determining needs

Saturday, October 20, 2001

Allowing the president of the Cape Girardeau firefighters' union to take time for a lengthy presentation at the last city council meeting raises questions about how the council intends to go about resolving future equipment needs -- and making tax decisions to pay for those needs.

Not that Capt. Charles Brawley's presentation was inaccurate, but do the city's decision makers think a union is the group to kick off a campaign to spend hundreds of thousands of tax dollars? Brawley, president of Local 1084 of the International Association of Firefighters, explained the union's perspective on the problems with equipment and buildings the fire department uses.

Fire Station No. 3 on Emerald Street near the Show Me Center is too small and needs renovation and new electrical systems, he said. The locker space is cramped.

Two department trucks needed repair a total 30 times last year. Some of the trucks are rusty. New ones that would fit the bill for Cape Girardeau cost $500,000. It would take another $500,000 to hire 15 more firefighters, Brawley said.

Not a pretty picture, and Brawley offered a solution: a quarter-cent sales tax to generate $1.75 million a year.

No citizen wants the fire department to have inadequate equipment. We depend on firefighters to respond to emergency medical service calls as well as fires. Incident after incident has shown the firefighters to be devoted heroes, and the Sept. 11 tragedies brought home to the whole world what kind of amazing men and women these folks are.

But the fact is no one can really point to a failure in the city's firefighting system as it stands. A Southeast Missourian reporter spent 24 hours with Brawley's unit last month. In that time, the unit went to the aid of an elderly woman who had fallen and responded to a false fire alarm at a nursing home. The unit's only other duty was watching over an uneventful demolition derby at the SEMO District Fair.

More importantly, the city has a chain of command, and nobody should appreciate that more than the employees of the police and fire departments, where everyone bears a military-like title.

The union more properly should have taken its concerns up with new fire chief, Michael Lackman -- who was in the audience during the presentation. He said he hasn't had time to "specifically address everything." Eventually, it will be city manager Michael Miller who will take the fire department's needs to the council. With his presentation, Brawley leapfrogged over his superiors to directly address the council.

As it was, the whole thing ended with Miller and Mayor Al Spradling III making some comments about needing some sort of tax to help all city departments.

To get up at a public meeting with the economy being what it is, present a lengthy slide show and then propose a new tax was unwise. The fire chief and city manager shouldn't have let it happen.

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