The new Colorado Springs Fire Station 22 will be fully staffed later this year, rather than borrowing a crew from Station 19 as planned last year by former Fire Chief Chris Riley.
The station, at 711 Copper Center Parkway, opened Tuesday and is temporarily staffed by a four-member engine crew from Station 19, at 2490 Research Parkway. Station 19's truck crew remains at that station. After the fire academy graduates new recruits in December, Station 22 will have its own crew and Station 19 will resume with two crews, says Interim Fire Chief Ted Collas via email. Twelve are needed to fully staff Station 22.
The station's staffing and other internal maneuvers were the topic of an October email from former International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5 president Jeremy Kunze to Mayor John Suthers' Chief of Staff Jeff Greene. The email was obtained by the Independent through an open-records request amid speculation about why Riley recently retired. Departing after 30 months, Riley was given $80,117 in severance pay, equal to six months' salary.
The Oct. 8 email requests a meeting with Greene to discuss staffing Station 22 "as opposed to adding Squad 11 and Battalion 4 in 2016." Squad 11, a paramedic unit that covers the city's southeast sector, went into service in January and relieves Engine 11 of medical calls — the same strategy used with Squad 8, deployed several years ago, says Justin Koch, current Local 5 president. A fourth battalion chief, also added this year, oversees the additional sector of the city and also the other three battalion chiefs while on shift. In other words, Local 5 thought full staffing of Station 22 was more important than launching Squad 11 and a new battalion chief.
"I realize you've already discussed this issue with Fire Chief Riley, as have we, but we feel we have reached an impasse," Kunze tells Greene. The email also notes that Local 5 members voted to endorse Suthers' road tax in the November election and adds, "Our membership has directed us to take this discussion [about fire staffing] to the stakeholders, if no one else will listen."
Koch reports that after Local 5 officials met with Greene and Suthers, sufficient funding was approved to add positions to fully staff Station 22.
Koch denies the staffing dispute contributed to Riley's exit, calling it only "a point of discussion."
"Our position was we would rather ensure staffing of Station 22 was done first before those other two were put in place," he says. "We put on a lot of pressure, so we feel pretty good with the direction it went."
The job announcement for the next chief, posted the week after Riley left March 4, notes among required abilities:
• Identify and respond to sensitive community and organizational issues, concerns, and needs.
• Build diverse teams while maintaining a respectful work environment.
• Establish and maintain effective working relationships, internally and externally.
It also says, "This position requires excellent political acumen, tact, and diplomacy in dealing with complex, sensitive, and confidential issues."
Suthers has declined to discuss Riley's retirement, calling it a "personnel matter."