The Leawood City Council unanimously approved the appointment of interim Fire Chief Colin Fitzgerald as permanent chief at its Monday night meeting.
City Clerk Kelly Varner swore in Fitzgerald in council chambers — at a marked off distance of 6 feet. All council members participated in the meeting, either in person or remotely. The meeting was streamed live on YouTube.
Fitzgerald became Leawood’s interim fire chief on March 6, following Fire Chief David Williams’ retirement after having led the department for seven years.
In an interview Monday afternoon, Fitzgerald said he thought the department had been functioning well during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Morale is very high,” he said. “They’ve taken it all in stride.”
Fitzgerald is Leawood’s designated infection control officer, and “that includes being prepared for airborne diseases, so we didn’t have to prepare for any of that.”
He had been concerned initially about having enough personal protective equipment for his staff if the department’s call volume would have increased. Instead, its call volume decreased about 10 percent in the past two months. Johnson County’s emergency medical services calls decreased about 25 percent in that time.
Some of the department’s basic supplies, such as soap and toilet paper, were in short supply for a while, he said. The department has stepped up routine sanitizing of its equipment and its three stations and closed the stations to the public, Fitzgerald said. All personnel have their temperatures checked at the start, middle and end of their 24-hour shifts.
Saint Luke’s Health System is providing coronavirus testing for fire, police and EMS departments, and results are available in 24 hours.
The fire department routinely emphasizes public education, but it has suspended those activities indefinitely, he said. The department’s re-accreditation process was postponed until later this year, and it is scheduled to go before the Commission on Fire Accreditation in Orlando, Fla., next March.
Otherwise, “it’s been pretty much business as usual from an emergency response standpoint,” Fitzgerald said.
Leawood residents have been supportive of the department by dropping off food prepared by vendors, homemade face masks and sanitizer, he said while addressing the council.
Despite disruptions from the pandemic, the department will have three job openings in June because of retirements, he said. More than 30 people have applied for the jobs, and he expects that number to double by May 29, when the application process closes.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Debra Filla asked whether the department’s staff had received any special training on how to respond to coronavirus cases. Fitzgerald said that they had, through Johnson County’s EMS system, and that they had been getting frequent updates on new procedures, studies and reports on taking precautions when treating the illness.
Ward 1 Councilman Andrew Osman asked about the status of planning for Fire Station 1. City Administrator Scott Lambers said that the property was being re-platted as a single piece of land and that deed restriction removal would be the next step. Osman asked what would happen to station plans if city revenue were to drop in the next six to eight months. Lambers said the project was planned to be bonded, was independent of city revenue and would proceed.
Fitzgerald started working for the Leawood Fire Department in January 2012, first as training chief, and then became deputy chief of administration about three years ago. He had also worked for the Lenexa Fire Department and as a U.S. Air Force firefighter for four years.
Fitzgerald is 48 and a resident of Gardner. He was born in Topeka and raised in Valley Falls, Kansas.