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Bromley Fire Department to End, City Turns to Ludlow

The Bromley city council meeting on Wednesday night was proceeding normally, with assistant fire chief Terry Keller providing his department's monthly report and then asking for city leaders to spread the message that more people were needed for the all-volunteer department.

After he took his seat, the conversation took a turn.

City council voted unanimously to accept a quote from the Ludlow Fire Department to provide fire and EMS service to the small city, rejecting a contract proposal from its own Bromley Fire Department.

The decision ends the Bromley department, which had operated since 1900.

"Unfortunately, under the circumstances, I think we only have one choice," said councilwoman Gail Smith, in making the motion to go with Ludlow. "I can't understand the pricing that Bromley has come up with given the fact they've lost the biggest liability in the ambulance."

The Crescent Springs-Villa Hills Fire Department provides advanced life support (ALS) services to Bromley residents. That service will continue and is not impacted by the new plan. It was stated on Wednesday that Crescent Springs-Villa Hills was asked to provide a quote to provide fire and EMS service as well, but declined.

The decision to shutter the Bromley Fire Department came after an evaluation by a committee made up of Mayor Mike Denham and councilmen Dave Radford and Mike Kendall, all three of whom had previously spent decades as volunteers for the department. According to the data analyzed, as reported by Kendall, for the past fourteen months, Bromley's fire department, which operates an independent corporation on a contract with the city, had only provided service for about 50 percent of its calls, with other nearby departments picking up the rest through mutual aid agreements. One fire truck had only left the station once over that period, Kendall said.

Bromley had been operating on a month-to-month contract with the city when the decision came on Wednesday to halt the service. It offered a new annual contract at a cost of nearly $63,000.

Ludlow's offer came in at $32,600 for fire service and $250 per EMS run. Last year in the city, there were eighty-seven EMS calls, which led to an estimated annual cost of roughly $22,000. Bromley officials estimated the total cost of Ludlow's quote to be $54,000. Ludlow's department has some full-time staff and volunteers.

The change angered Bromley Fire Chief Wayne Keller. He argued that the city should have better understood the offer he made.

"Effectively at 6:45 tonight, Ludlow is going to make the next fire run?," Chief Keller asked.

"As soon as I call them," Mayor Denham said. "I'll call them shortly when I get done with this."

"OK," the chief said, with a laugh.

The mayor said after the meeting that he had Ludlow on standby in case the conversation went poorly. 

After the vote, Chief Keller left the room. His father, the assistant chief and former chief, left soon after. They have three fire trucks to sell, and the city gave them ninety days to clean out their space within the city building and fire station.

Wayne Keller took over as chief last October, replacing former Chief Donnie Job who resigned before he was indicted on theft charges related to city money, as well as other charges. Jobe is due in court next week and had previously served as fire chief and mayor concurrently when his alleged crimes took place. 

Council members expressed that it was difficult to make the decision to change the fire service to Ludlow rather than its hometown service. 

"It is with a heavy heart that I cast this vote tonight," Radford said. "Many a night, I lost sleep."

"It's not an easy decision," Smith said. 

"(The Bromley Fire Department) used to be known around the entire area as probably one of the finest volunteer services around here. It produced a lot of paid firefighters throughout Northern Kentucky, and I feel for these guys, I really do," Kendall said. "But they have done nothing wrong. They tried their best and it's just hard to have volunteers anymore."

The department had shrunk over the past year from twenty-two volunteers to seventeen.

"We felt this was best for the citizens," Denham said. "That's all we're thinking about. We weren't thinking about any money, or who was fastest. We were thinking about what was best for our citizens."

The fire department is responsible for its own debt and can liquidate any equipment it has in order to satisfy that, Radford explained. Any proceeds could be given to the city, he said.

The decision to move to Ludlow's department does not currently involve a contract, as that city's fire department has only so far submitted a quote. Mayor Denham said that a contract would be worked out soon and would be retroactive.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: Photos of Bromley fire department chiefs hang on the wall in the city building (RCN)