Local chief says he needs funding to patrol East End Bridge and - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Local chief says he needs funding to patrol East End Bridge and tunnels

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A local fire chief says he's losing sleep over the potential danger to drivers when the new East End Bridge opens.

The Harrods Creek Fire Chief doesn't think his department will be able to do what's needed when there's an emergency.

"I tell my guys every day, we don't make widgets, we deal with life and death," Chief Kevin Tyler said. "This entire bridge and tunnel project, the East End bridge portion of this project, is entirely in Harrods Creek's district."

That's why the chief is keeping an eye on construction at the east end bridge.

"All they know is the fire department is here," Chief Tyler said. "When they call, they'll show up."

The chief is also warning the people he serves and protects.

"If it wasn't such an issue, Stephan, I wouldn't be standing here before you."

Chief Tyler said the "issue" is funding to keep 15 firefighters and operate truck 1288, which is equipped to respond to emergencies in tunnels and the East End bridge.

"Anywhere from entanglements to medical emergencies on the pedestrian walkway of the bridge, someone has got to go up there and rescue them," he said. "Someone has got to go take care of someone's loved one."

The truck and extra manpower were paid for upfront by the Indiana Department of Transportation to cover workers during construction. But when construction ends, so will the funding, and the Chief Tyler says cutting firefighters and equipment puts drivers' lives in danger.

"I'm going to lay 15 people off that the state and the taxpayer have initially funded and paid for," he said.

But Chief Tyler said just one nickel of toll money could keep everything and everyone in place.

"Five cents per car would give me $746,000," he said. "That's all I need."

Chief Tyler has called and written letters to everyone, from U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to Congressman John Yarmuth and Metro Council.

"Everyone shakes their head yes," he said. "They all understand why I'm asking for it, that it is a great need but, when it comes time to commit to funding, no one wants to make that commitment to us."

We took Chief Tyler's concerns to Frankfort. Right now, there's nothing on the table, but the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has also not closed the door on finding funding.

"I think I would agree that he needs funding to maintain his current staffing, yes," Kentucky Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas said.

Thomas is aware of the issue but says taking toll money is not as easy as it sounds. That's why he's looking for other options.

"I am going to talk to homeland security, to our emergency management folks," he said. "I also want to have a conversation with Louisville MetroSafe."

Secretary Thomas is also aware that time is running out, but he said so is money.

"As you know, the state is in a shortfall in terms of funding, but there's always room for funding for absolute critical needs."

It is, however, Indiana's bridge.

"I don't care who owns the bridge or who is responsible for the bridge," said Chief Tyler, who added that the funding is a critical need for Kentucky.

"My concern is the citizens that are going through the tunnel, on the bridge, and this bridge project, once it opens to the public, is entirely in Harrods Creek's fire district."

Chief Tyler hopes to hear from the transportation cabinet soon, but he also has a plan B.

"We're not only asking the state to fund us, we applied for a federal grant called a safer grant, and that helps firefighters and fire departments retain their current staffing."

He has even used truck 1288 on rescue missions in Pleasure Ridge Park and Henryville, but he knows that before long, he might not have anyone to operate the truck ... and he says that's taking a toll on his health.

"I've lost about 30 pounds in the last few months," Chief Tyler said. "I go to sleep thinking about this. I wake up thinking about this."

The East End Bridge is scheduled to open in December.

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