Firm recommends fire service merger, district chiefs weigh in

Chief Bill Seng, St. Matthews Fire Department
Chief Bill Seng, St. Matthews Fire Department
Chief Russ Rakestraw, Lyndon Fire Department
Chief Russ Rakestraw, Lyndon Fire Department

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A consolidation conversation is sparking a heated debate among neighbors and suburban fire chiefs.

"I think it would make it a little less personal," said Lyndon resident Adrian Rowan.

The reaction comes after Mayor Greg Fischer appointed the Merger 2.0 Task Force - a committee charged with finding improvements among metro departments.

The Fire/EMS subcommittee is still weighing the pros and cons after a firm recommended the metro's 17 suburban fire districts combine with the Louisville Fire Department. The subcommittee met Wednesday evening.

"I just don't think they're comparing apples to apples when they were throwing out numbers and dollars," said Chief Bill Seng of the St. Matthews Fire Department.

St. Matthews and Lyndon's chief are on the same page. "The suburban fire budgets and the city budgets are very, very different," said Chief Russ Rakestraw of the Lyndon Fire Department.

Rakestraw and Seng agree: what looks good on paper, saves money and improves the bottom line doesn't always make sense.

"What value are those services? What value are those to the community? Do they in fact bring the community closer together?" Rakestraw said. "Can the suburban system be helped with some minor revenue enhancements as compared to funding them at the same level as the city? They're all imperative questions that warrant answers."

Lyndon upped its business fire inspections, but the incremental fees haven't outweighed rising labor costs.

Rakestraw offers this improvement to the system: fire-based EMS service versus the status quo of a third service entity - a result of the county-wide merger more than a decade ago.

Pennsylvania-based firm Public Works, LLC suggested fire-managed EMS runs move may improve emergency response time and cut costs.

"If the current structure the way these fire districts get their funding doesn't change we're going to see that constant decline of our budgets," Seng said.

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