“City Government 101” is an ongoing series that debuted in April 2023 and highlights different aspects of municipal government as it pertains to Columbus, Nebraska, in hopes to provide information on how the City of Columbus operates.
Every City of Columbus department head was recently asked some questions in regard to their department, the current fiscal year budget and plans for their department in the upcoming fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2023-Sept. 30, 2024).
DEPARTMENT HEAD: Fire Chief Ryan Gray
(Interview conducted in September 2023)
Q: How many people are in your department?
A: Currently, the Columbus Fire Department is made up of 1 Chief, 1 Assistant Chief, 18 Career firefighters, and 18 reserve firefighters, making the total 38.
Q: How long have you been head of your department?
A: I started my role as fire chief on March 28, 2022. I am going on a year-and-a-half on the job.
Q: How do you think things went for your department in fiscal year 2022-2023?
A: Overall, I feel that things went well for the fire department in Fiscal Year 22-23. We had some challenges that we needed to overcome, but I feel as though we have made changes that have positively impacted our citizens. With the approval of City Council, we implemented a paid Reserve Program which requires more training and participation, as well as compensates them for their time. We ordered a new fire engine to replace the one we lost in late 2021. This apparatus will be delivered sometime this fall. We were able to purchase and put into service a new command vehicle, which has been a great addition to the fleet and has helped to allow for better incident and resource management.
Q: What were at least two of your department’s biggest accomplishments in the last fiscal year (and why)?
A: I believe the biggest accomplishment last fiscal year was the improvement in morale within the department. There was a lot of division within the department and we took steps to make sure there were clear expectations and accountability across the board. The second biggest accomplishment for the fire department was the addition of three more career firefighters in Fiscal Year 22-23. This allowed each of the three shifts to be staffed with six per day (five if someone is off). These additional people are a step in the right direction for the needed increase in staffing.
Q: What are some of the problems your department faced in the last fiscal year and how did you overcome them?
A: The biggest challenge we faced in the last fiscal year was our apparatus maintenance. We encountered a lot of issues with apparatus that we were not expecting. This has put us on the fast track to formulate and implement a preventative maintenance schedule for all of our apparatus in an effort to limit unforeseen problems requiring repair. We were able to reallocate some donated and capital funds for these repairs in order to limit the impacts to service delivery.
A major topic of discussion this past year has been the City providing Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to the Columbus and Duncan Rural Fire Districts. For decades, the City has provided primary EMS coverage for these areas without any formal agreement or compensation. The cost of this service has fallen on the shoulder of City taxpayers. This was recognized as an issue, and we have taken steps to correct this. The City is in negotiation with both districts to find a solution to this problem. The City’s intention is to hire additional personnel with the funds received from the Rural Districts, in order to cover the area of the fire districts. We are hopeful to have an agreement in place by the beginning of November. [NOTE TO READERS: Read the story about rural EMS service on the City’s website by clicking here.]
Q: What are at least 3 major things you’re wanting your department to accomplish in fiscal year 2023-2024 and how is the new budget going to improve that?
A: In the upcoming Fiscal Year, we are wanting to: 1) Provide all personnel with turnout gear that is within the 10-year shelf life. 2) Order a new ambulance to replace our oldest. 3) Get our new fire engine in-service and get rid of our 1984 engine. In this upcoming budget, City Council approved our Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) items, which consisted of $200,000 for new turnout gear and $500,000 for a new ambulance. Fiscal year 22-23 provided the funds required to purchase and equip the new fire engine, so we will be working internally to get the apparatus in-service with the items already purchased.
Q: What can the public expect from your department in the next fiscal year?
A: The biggest thing that the public can expect from the fire department in the next fiscal year is, we will continue to provide a high level of service. We plan on publishing our Strategic Plan, which will outline our next 5 fiscal years and provide insight on where we are going from here.
To reach Fire Chief Ryan Gray, email him at Ryan.Gray@columbusne.us.
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