LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville Fire and Rescue and the Jefferson County suburban fire department officials acknowledged there are times when the first fire crew to arrive at a scene in Jefferson County may not be the closest fire crew, and they're willing to work on improving their cooperation.
"At the end of the day, you'll get the closest ambulance no matter what," Buechel Fire Chief Adam Jones said. "We do have a little divide on the fire side but I think today is the start of something that's going to be good moving forward. And the goal is to get to that point the best service possible to the citizens."
The Metro Council's Public Safety Committee called a special meeting Wednesday, inviting Jones, Louisville Fire & Rescue Chief Greg Frederick and other fire and emergency services officials together to talk about how the different departments work together. This comes two months after a fire on Breckenridge Lane in St. Matthews destroyed a strip mall, with several council members grilling Frederick on why Louisville Fire did not call on the suburban fire districts to help, even though some, like St. Matthews Fire, were closer to the fire than some of the engines called to the scene.
"There's a boatload of suburban departments that are closer than Truck 2 or whatever - 12th and Jefferson. There are a mountain of them," Councilman James Peden, R.-District 23, said.
"Can we just agree that we're going to fix it and not point fingers? Am I asking too much? If I am, tell me," Councilwoman Madonna Flood, D.-District 24, said.
But fixing the problem is easier said than done. Louisville Fire had traditionally served the old city boundary lines, known as the urban service district, while the suburban fire companies have served the other areas of Louisville and the county. Jones said the suburban companies will often work together, but Louisville Fire and the suburban companies rarely go past the other's boundaries.
Council members and the fire officials spoke of automatic aid, which would send crews into neighboring jurisdictions without a formal request from a commander, but both Jones and Frederick said they are willing to work together to improve their cooperation despite the challenges.
Frederick said while the differences in training are part of the challenge, it isn't the biggest obstacle as many firefighters in suburban fire departments have experience working in Louisville Fire and vice versa. Rather, Frederick said the logistical issues, like dispatch, pose the bigger problems.
"I think it's more about how much of my equipment and resources do I send into your district in order to maintain what I need in mine," he said.
"It's not a waving of a wand to get it solved," Jones said. "It's going to take time. It's going to take committee meetings. It's going to take some resolve and some give and take on both sides."
Another obstacle could be the collective bargaining agreement. Jeff Taylor, the vice president of Louisville Professional Firefighters Local 345, which represents Louisville Fire & Rescue, said the current CBA prevents automatic aid with the suburban fire districts. Taylor mentioned the idea of one fire department that would be uniform with its operations, training and standards, but added this would likely require efforts from the state legislature.
Councilmen Anthony Piagentini and David James also raised concerns over social media posts by Frederick following the St. Matthews fire responding to online criticism about Louisville Fire's response to the fire, claiming it would compromise his ability to lead the collaborative efforts. Frederick responded that they were on his personal social media pages and were his own opinions and do not reflect his role as a professional.
Jones later told reporters he has had a good professional relationship with Frederick over the years and believes he will continue to be professional as they work together towards better collaboration.
At this time, nothing has been scheduled moving forward, but committee chair Jessica Green, Jones and Frederick all said they would be willing to work together in a work group to find solutions to some of these obstacles in the way of automatic aid and an improved working relationship.
"Certainly we want to make sure our citizens are getting the best response that they can, whether that's from our department or another neighboring department," Frederick said.