KFD Rally

In this file photo, Chris Frazier addresses the crowd outside City Hall on Jan. 22, 2018, and thanks people for supporting the firefighters union during a rally. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

Mayor-elect Tyler Moore announced Monday that Kokomo Fire Department Capt. Chris Frazier, a former union president who in recent years found himself in the spotlight during disputes with City Hall, will serve as his administration’s fire chief.

Moore’s reveal that he will tap Frazier as fire chief fills another vital administration role for an incoming mayor that campaigned heavily on public safety and a need for increased staffing. The pick of Frazier follows the Nov. 26 announcement that KPD Capt. Doug Stout, in another internal promotion, will take over as the city’s police chief.

Frazier, meanwhile, is a 20-year veteran of the KFD and became a captain in 2007, according to a media release distributed by Moore. In his current role, the release notes, Frazier manages daily crew operations, coordinates training and leads initial and ongoing fire scene command and operations.

“I’m very honored to be in this position. I’ve followed a lot of very good leaders in the Kokomo Fire Department over the years in this position, and I will strive to do my best to get this department where it needs to be,” Frazier, who found out about his promotion Sunday, said in an interview.

The release said Moore “sought and received valuable input” from his 30-person advisory committee and the “firefighting community,” while interviewing each person who expressed an interest in the fire chief position.

“After conducting candidate interviews and an extensive review and dialogue with many interested parties, I concluded that Chris is uniquely qualified to lead the Kokomo Fire Department,” said Moore.

“It was not an easy decision, but I was particularly impressed with his experience and commitment to this community and to the KFD.”

Frazier, who in 2010 was named American Legion Firefighter of the Year, has up to this point been best known publicly for his role as president of the Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396, a position he held from late 2015 through November.

Frazier – he said the chance of becoming fire chief did not factor into his decision to not seek a third two-year term – will be replaced by Kokomo firefighter Andy Eshelman as union head. Eshelman is slated to be sworn in Wednesday.

As union president, Frazier regularly butted heads with Mayor Greg Goodnight’s administration, most notably when Local 396 entered into a fiery, yearlong contract dispute with the city that ended in summer 2018 and included the first ever stretch of Kokomo firefighters operating without a contract.

Following the contract agreement, Frazier has continued to critique the existing administration, saying the KFD is understaffed and the city’s approach to public safety puts firefighters and the public at risk.

He reiterated those points Monday.

“Like we’ve said all along, staffing is a big issue. We need to look to increase our staffing back to the levels that – get us back to what [the National Fire Protection Association] recommends for a city our size, and to maintain the fire protection that we should have,” said Frazier.

“The things that I’m going to have to address first, we’ll have to sit down and we’re going to form a committee of some firefighters right now that have knowledge to address some of these issues, as far as what we will do with our staffing at the fire department from the top-down.”

He added: “What we will do with our administrative staff, who will be in those positions, that will be the first course of action, and then work to implement a 30-day, 90-day plan all the way into a one-year plan of how we’re going to attack this first year so we can hit the ground running in January.”

Moore has similarly called for increased staffing, saying previously that Kokomo’s “public safety officials are overworked. Their departments are understaffed. And we have fallen behind other in-state departments in terms of pay and benefits.”

In response to questions Monday, Moore noted: “As I had mentioned throughout the campaign, many experienced and interested individuals with whom I spoke often expressed concerns with the current staffing levels and availability of resources and training for the Kokomo Fire Department.

“I plan on discussing these concerns with my new Chief and his leadership to best address these and the new ideas they present.”

The city, especially during the contract dispute, has countered such claims by saying Kokomo firefighters are near the top of second-tier cities when it comes to benefits and compensation, while available data shows KFD staffing figures are comparable to departments across the country.

The latest available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, shows that Hoosier firefighters on average make $49,460. Fire inspectors and investigators on average make $53,670; positions that fall under “first-line supervisors of firefighting and prevention workers” make $66,510, according to the BLS.

In 2020, KFD captains will make $58,605, followed by chauffeurs ($54,381), firefighters ($52,797) and cadet firefighters ($47,750).

The fire chief, meanwhile, is slated to make a maximum weekly pay of $1,419, which is slightly below $74,000 in a 52-week year. That is followed by the deputy fire chief (roughly $69,000); the positions of division chief of training, battalion chief, fire inspector and fire and arson investigator (roughly $65,600); and district chief (roughly $64,000).

Kokomo Human Resources Director Kathy Horton did not respond to an email Monday asking how many firefighters the city currently staffs; Frazier said the department is running at between 81 and 83 firefighters “that are actually on trucks today.”

The NFPA noted in a March report that the median number of career firefighters for communities from 50,000 to 99,999 residents is 1.33 firefighters per 1,000 population, although it notes the figure does not “reflect recommended rates or some defined fire protection standard” due to community-specific factors.

Eighty-one firefighters would put Kokomo, with an estimated population of 57,869 residents, at 1.39 firefighters per 1,000.

“The ideal number isn’t so much how many firefighters we have, it’s how many firefighters are on duty each day,” remarked Frazier.

“We used to average 31, 32 range of firefighters on duty each day, and that was pretty normal. We would dip down into the upper-20s, say hit 29, 28 from time to time. We’re currently running at 21. So the question isn’t, so much, how many firefighters do we need to have hired at the Kokomo Fire Department? It is: how many firefighters do we need to have on duty each day?

“And there’s a mix of hiring firefighters, a mix of overtime, there’s a formula to do that and how we go about it. And that’s what we’ll have to determine in the months starting out the year, is what’s the best way to use the budget to achieve that purpose?”

Under Frazier’s leadership, the fire union was an ardent supporter of Moore in the Republican’s quest to become mayor.

Local 396’s political action committee said when announcing its endorsement of Moore that his “public safety platform shows he wants to partner with the Kokomo Firefighters and make the long-needed changes that the citizens and firefighters deserve.”

“Having discussed public safety issues with so many fire professionals and Kokomo citizens during my campaign, it is clear to me that adjustments need to be made to ensure that KFD can adequately and effectively protect this community, so I have requested Chris to begin work immediately on his recommendations, both long and short term,” added Moore on Monday.

“I look forward to working with Chris, his leadership team and the skilled and committed officers and staff of the Kokomo Fire Department.”’

Current Fire Chief Nick Glover did not return a request for comment, although Moore said Glover “never reached out to me to express an interest in being considered to retain his position.”

“Chief Glover’s future with the Kokomo Fire Department will depend on the decision he makes himself and/or the decision of the new Chief,” he remarked in an email.

Frazier added Monday that Glover’s role “will be part of the process of the next few weeks, of just deciding what positions will be filled by who.”

In the next two to three weeks, he noted, “we’ll go through and assess who is in each position, if that person should stay in that position or if it’ll be a replacement. But none of that has been decided yet.”

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gmyerskt.

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George Myers covers city and county government. He joined the Kokomo Tribune on November 18, 2014.

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