First, do no harm. That is the principal I urge Mayor Neil Bradshaw and others to keep in mind as they rebuild the Ketchum Fire Department after many years of severe underfunding, revealed in the February report by interim Fire Chief Marcus Kragness. 

The single most startling part of the report says, “General fund support of the FD budget is much less than I have seen with comparable sized jurisdictions. When revenue from the contracts (EMS and KRFD), plan review fees and KRFD support of the fire clerk position are netted out, the remaining City contribution is approximately $500K. This represents an approximate general fund expense of 5% of the City’s overall operating budget. A typical percentage that I have seen in my experience is in the range of 15%-25%.”

In recent public meetings, Mayor Bradshaw has been asking for “flexibility” and “trust” and abandonment of the current agreements and work schedules between the city of Ketchum and the Ketchum Professional Firefighters. Flexibility and trust sound like good principles on the surface, but as you listen further you realize that Mayor Bradshaw is really portraying the union and the collective bargaining agreement and work schedules as some sort of gross abuse that is a barrier to repairing the Fire Department. Baloney!

The current collective bargaining agreement was negotiated over many years and agreed to by many city administrations before this one, and it represents a series of reasonable compromises between the city and the firefighters. And let’s be clear: Ketchum firefighters are still paid less than other firefighters in the valley!

Mr. Mayor, it is time to stop the union-busting attacks on the full-time staff at the Ketchum Fire Department.

I have closely watched the Fire Department evolve over six decades from both inside and out. Support and funding for the department waxes and wanes as city administrations change. What doesn’t change is the incredible dedication of these men and women who staff these roles. They are consistently delivering the highest standards of care and service, despite having their station overcrowded and falling apart around them, and the city only owning one fire engine and a broken-down aerial tower.

The current staff at Ketchum Fire is a group of highly experienced and well-qualified leaders. Unlike typical career firefighters, they do a large amount of off-duty call-back for training and emergency response. They cannot be replaced easily or quickly. It takes at least 10 years of local experience to develop a fire captain with the skill and judgement and experience to run a fire or complex medical scene and make good decisions in high-stress situations.

There are three parts to this Fire Department: the people, the equipment and the facilities. I applaud the city of Ketchum and the mayor and council for recognizing how serious the situation is with deplorable facilities and grossly inadequate equipment. But in your quest to fix those problems of facilities and equipment, don’t attack the people who heroically serve us every single day. First, do no harm.

David Lister was a firefighter/EMT with Ketchum from 1975-1992 and is a paid-on-call firefighter/EMT in Sun Valley. His opinions are his own and do not reflect any position of the city of Sun Valley or the Sun Valley Fire Department.


David Lister was a firefighter/EMT with Ketchum from 1975-1992 and is a paid-on-call firefighter/EMT in Sun Valley. His opinions are his own and do not reflect any position of the city of Sun Valley or the Sun Valley Fire Department.

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