On his second day as Conway fire chief, Mike Winter talked to the Log Cabin about what the city can expect from the Conway Fire Department in the next few years.
There will be internal changes, Winter said, but the public should see more efforts at education and recruiting.
"Nineteen years ago we had over 100 applicants — more like 150 when I took the test — but this last test we had 57," Winter said. That’s terrible. That’s completely unacceptable, and we can start fixing that by promoting the fire department and being actively involved in the community.
"My idea is that the fire service, in any city, is a cornerstone of the community and a safe haven for the citizens, but right now almost the only time people really get involved with us is when they call 911. I’m planning to do more educating the public on what they have right here, and I would love to couple with the [city] police department, because we’re all civil servants, as partners with recruitment efforts.
Winter said he was also considering some sort of fire department event similar to the police "national night out."
He’s also working on an interesting logistical problem: The majority of the department’s calls are for non-life-threatening medical emergencies, and about 33 percent of the time a station’s two trucks will be out on call simultaneously. The current policy is to send two or three firefighters in a $500,000 fire truck to these less-critical medical calls. Winter said that these runs could be made in a pickup truck, reducing fleet costs, but if these firefighters have to respond to something on fire they would have to go back to the station and swap the pickup for their fire truck, which isn’t ideal.
In Europe, some fire departments are trying out a theory of sending a single firefighter on a motorcycle to non-life-threatening medical emergencies, which he said was something to think about.
He also said that he’d like to start working with a local college to start a degree program in emergency management/fire services taught in part by fire department personnel.
Winter is taking over as the department’s top administrator in a year when there’s not any general fund money budgeted for things like major equipment replacement, but he says the department is well-positioned for the upcoming year.
The department’s bomb squad doesn’t have any general fund money allocated to it, but it did get about $500,000 in federal grants over the past two years and Winter said they’ve applied for another.
The bomb squad now has two bomb investigation and disposal robots, and opened up bids for a second truck to carry the new robot.
Since the bomb squad covers "about a quarter of the state," Winter said, there have been times when they’ve needed to be in two places at once.
The fire department also has the ability to buy new heavy trucks using money from a bonded 1/8-cent sales tax, and Winter said that a new ladder truck and engine should be delivered in June.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)