The number of Kansas City firefighters getting injured on the job has risen sharply in just one year’s time, according to KC STAT data produced by the city. The total hours of leave related to injury in 2015 were 20,271, and in 2016 that number rose to 34,392. The number of calls firefighters and EMTs are responding to has also climbed. The total number of calls ambulances responded to jumped to 21 percent between 2013 and 2017.
In that same time, fire crews were taking 19 percent more calls.
One firefighter said, “the more times you get on a truck to respond to an accident, the more likely you are to get hurt.” That is something Captain John Locke said he knows all too well.
He responded to two fires on the same day back in February 2015.
“We had gotten everything knocked down and hit hot spots and floor gave in,” said Locke, who has undergone three surgeries. “I called the health advocate, and she said, ‘You’re off the truck.’ She called the chief.”
He had a torn ACL and a full knee replacement.
Locke is one of more than 47 percent of KCFD firefighters who were ill or injured in 2016. That percentage is much higher than the 14 other cities it was compared to in the KC STAT data.
Local Union 42 Secretary-Treasurer Tim Dupin said staffing numbers may be playing a role in the jump since they have not kept up with the demand.
“There’s been no increase in staffing. Our people are working harder. They’re tired, and they’re beat up,” said Dupin.
KCFD confirmed they have not hired more people, though they would like to. However, that’s not in the budget.
Dupin also said he believes some of the departments KCFD was compared to have physical therapy built into their departments.
Others have doctors, therapists and even mental health specialists who are integrated into the departments.
Deputy Fire Chief James Garrett said the department is analyzing the whole system.
Data shows injury rates were going down until 2015 when two firefighters were killed, and from that point climbed upward. It had been 15 years since KCFD had lost a firefighter on the job.
“We’re looking at other departments who have gone through other incidents,” said Garrett. “This phenomena came to our attention and we are studying it right now.”
Garrett said this will help them understand why the spike happened, so they can reduce the number of hours firefighters spend injured.