New Topeka Fire Chief Craig Duke looks to engage community, build new programs

The Topeka Fire Department should be more diverse and better engaged with the community, new fire chief Craig Duke said.

He also wants to intensify CPR training and explore Spanish language programs — two programs he was involved in during is more than 30 year career with the Kansas City, Kan., Fire Department. Duke, hired earlier this month, spoke publicly Monday during his first full day in Topeka.

“I’m really looking forward to this,” he said. “Everyone has welcomed me with open arms.”

News conference for new Topeka Fire Chief.

The department needs to engage young Topekans — as early as middle school — to educate them about career opportunities in firefighting and be seen as mentors, he said. At KCKFD he was involved in a program focused on providing training for low income students which he said could be applicable in Topeka.

“I’m looking toward more diverse firefighters that meet the diversity of the city,” Duke said.

Overall community engagement would help the department meet the city’s needs better, he said. Duke also plans a to meet with firefighters and community leaders in one-on-one and group settings as he determines how to lead the department.

Increased CPR training and programs for Spanish speakers are two ways Duke said he’d like to engage the community.

Hands-only CPR training has become a standard which Duke said he was involved in pushing for in KCK. TFD should lead efforts to grow hands-only CPR training in schools and other community groups, he said.

“(We could) make Topeka one of the safest places if you happen to suffer from some sort of heart condition,” he said.

In KCK Duke was involved in CPR and first aid classes for Spanish-speaking citizens and worked to hire bilingual firefighters, which he said helped engage and strength relationships with the Spanish-speaking community there.

“(It) really helped us with that cross culture aspect and work with that community,” he said.

In the past, city officials have expressed interest in expanding the fire department’s advanced life support services. More than 90 percent of fire departments serving populations above 100,000 have some form of and advanced life support, either in paramedics who treat patients on scene or in transport services, he said. Topeka currently has basic life support services.

Duke said he expects to continue the discussion on ALS.

“I want to make sure whatever is decided is best for the citizens of Topeka,” he said.

Duke comes to Topeka after a brief retirement, which he jokingly called a “sabbatical,” but he has no reservations about taking over Topeka’s fire service.

“I’m ready,” he said. “This was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.”

Contact reporter Luke Ranker at (785) 295-1270 or @lrankerNEWS on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/lukeranker.

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