Wisconsin Chiefs Seek Pay Increase for POC Firefighters and EMTs

Lisbon and Sussex fire chiefs are advising their respective municipal government boards that it is necessary to provide higher pay incentives to paid-on-call emergency responders or face the possibility of having to rely more on full-time responders – at a much higher cost. In separate interviews, the chiefs expressed concern about the combination of the increased number of emergency calls and the decreasing number of community residents who are trained and available to respond to emergencies and willing to be paid on a per call basis.

The departments are having to rely more on nonresident emergency responders who are younger firefighters and emergency medical personnel who are pursuing careers in emergency service. To recruit those younger paid-on-call professionals, the departments will have to provide greater financial incentives, according to the chiefs.

Alternatives

Sussex Fire Chief Corky Curtis recently proposed two alternatives to the Sussex Village Board.

He suggested the board pay some on-call personnel the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or provide a $20 stipend to those who work duty shifts at the station.

The minimum wage proposal could cost the village more than $450,000, according to village officials, while the stipend alternative would cost about $106,000.

Village trustees have, so far, rejected both alternatives, partly because they want to see what happens to a proposal by Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow to study the possibility of creating more regional fire departments in the county.

Lisbon Fire Chief Doug Brahm said he is already paying bonuses to emergency responders who are willing to work holidays.

Brahm said he and Town Chairman Joe Osterman have been trying to prepare the town board for the eventuality of having to pay more money to firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

“Over the past couple of years, we have found ways to set aside some money so when it does come there will at least be some money already in the budget,” he explained.

Recruiting

Both departments have prided themselves on their ability to recruit communitybased responders, which has enabled the municipalities to provide high levels of fire and medical emergency response without having to rely on fulland part-time responders. Each department’s roster maintains about 50 to 60 paidper-call responders. About half have been residents of the community.

The other half have been younger nonresident responders who have been willing to work on a paid-on-call basis until they acquired full-time positions with larger suburban or metropolitan departments.

Four years ago, state labor authorities ruled that paidper-call responders had to be paid the minimum of wage of $7.25 per hour if they were required to remain at the station or perform specific duties during their work shifts.

Departments such Pewaukee and Lake Country Fire and Rescue, which rely more heavily on nonresident responders, either began paying the minimum wage or increased the stipends paid for in-station duties.

Other departments, such as Lisbon and Sussex, were able to avoid those costs by relying on community-based responders who live near fire stations and avoiding requiring responders to perform specific tasks.

Competition

But the minimum wage requirement is more attractive to nonresident responders, which has created more competition among departments in recruiting them.

“Because of our mix of resident and nonresident paidon-call, we have been able to provide town residents with fast, efficient and cost-effective services. But that mix is not going to be sustainable in the future,” Brahm said.

Curtis added, “We don’t have a problem right now. But I want to stay ahead of the curve. I don’t want to be in a situation where suddenly I am down to 25 people and wondering what am I going to do.” The chiefs said a number of factors makes it more difficult to recruit community-based responders, including the increased time required for training.

The combination of duty shifts and training requires a greater time commitment to the department that many individuals, particularly those with families, cannot provide, the chiefs said.

© 2015 Journal Media Group

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