Battalion chiefs could be demoted for safety

YAKIMA, Wash.-- A reshuffling of the Yakima Fire Department designed to improve safety. Yakima might get rid of some managers in favor of more ground soldiers.

Long-term changes could help Yakima Fire run better.

"It was caused by lighting and threatened a home for a moment or two but firefighters and police were there to keep it under control," Jeffery Kadell, who has lived in Yakima for 16 years, said.

He heard about proposed changes within the fire department. They would reduce leaders and add ground soldiers.

"It's very important to have people ready to help out," Kadell said.

Helping out is what the department wants to do. Fire Chief Dave Willson says those staff members are critical to safety.

"We definitely need the staff on the floor, there's days where we would only have 15 people on the floor for 92,000 people," Yakima Fire Chief Dave Willson said in Friday's public safety meeting.

As it stands, Yakima has one chief, two deputy chiefs, and three battalion chiefs. The proposal would keep the chief, add a deputy chief, and eliminate all battalion chiefs. The remaining leaders would be on-call to fill the roles once held by battalion chiefs. At least one battalion chief is already set to retire but two are still on the job.

City Manager Tony O'Rourke assures KIMA neither of them will lose their jobs. The current battalion chiefs could be demoted through no fault of their own. They may be considered for the new deputy position. That could still mean a pay cut.

The savings from this reorganization would allow Yakima to hire three new front line firefighters.

"With having the extra money and extra people, it would help," Kadell said.

Helping public safety is the first priority in the plan. The reorganization proposal will be discussed this summer. City Council will make the final decision.